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Skeleton and muscles: 4. The structure and function of teeth

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INDEX of biology notes on the skeleton and muscles

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(4) The structure and function of teeth

Although teeth are not considered part of the skeletal system, teeth are made out of bone-like material (plus soft tissue) and also involve muscle action to work the jaw bones!

The four main types of human teeth

Teeth are NOT bone, but they are anchored to the jaw bones.

Designed for the crushing of food - mechanical digestion of food.

Image adapted from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_tooth

Molars - the biggest teeth, large flat ridged surfaces to grind and chew food into smaller pieces that are easy to swallow.

Pre-molars - have many ridges and their main function is to chew and grind up food.

Canines ('fangs') - the strongest, but smaller sharpest pointed front teeth are used for biting food - you use them to bite into food first.

Incisors - flat sharper front teeth for tearing food, and used in first biting action too. They also support the lips.

The structure of the human tooth

image adapted from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_tooth_development

The crown is the visible top part of your tooth and the 'invisible' root extends down below the gum line and helps anchor the tooth to the jaw bone.

Enamel coating - is the hardest and most mineralised part of a tooth that covers and protects the tooth crown.

Dentine - is the substance between the enamel or cementum and is a mineralised tissue not as hard as enamel, so susceptible to decay if the enamel is worn away.

Pulp - the central region of the tooth and contains the blood vessels, nerves and softer tissues that delivers nutrients and signals to and from the tooth.

Gums - tissue that covers the root of the tooth.

Cementum - a specialized bone like substance covering the root of a tooth and helps tether the root firmly to the jaw bones.

Bone - the root of the tooth is anchored to the jaw bone.

Blood vessels - bring nutrients and oxygen to the teeth cells, note the network of blood vessels and nerves right up to near the dentine.

Nerves - the inner softer tissue of teeth contain neurons which are part of the peripheral nervous system - very effective in sending pain signals to the brain if the tooth is infected, ouch!!!

Dental decay and plaque

Your teeth get coated with bacteria and food.  The bacteria respiring sugars in the food producing acidic molecules.  The acids dissolve the enamel and dentine.

The bacteria and undigested food and saliva form soft deposits called plaque which hardens with salts to form a deposit called calculus.

Both plaque and calculus act as food reservoirs by absorbing sugars on which the bacteria can feed on.

These bacteria respiring on sugars in the food, produce the acids which dissolves the enamel and dentine on your outer coatings of your teeth and exposing the inner structure of the teeth to potential decay.

Looking after your teeth and gums.

Brush your teeth regularly, which clears out residual food and bacteria so the acidic molecules are not formed in the first place - prevention is better than cure (if possible!) at the dentist.

It is not good to consume too many sugary foods or drinks on which the acid producing bacteria can feed on.

Calcium ions are an important component of the harder bone tissues, so your diet should include sources of calcium like milk, cheese, yogurt, nuts and green leafy vegetables.

Although very rare, lack of vitamin C from fruit and vegetables can lead to scurvy whose effect includes bleeding gums - gum disease.


Keywords, phrases and learning objectives for this part on bones, muscles, skeleton and teeth

Know the basic structure and function of teeth in terms of molars, pre-molars, canines, incisors, crown enamel coating, pulp, gums, cementum.

Know that teeth are fixed to the jaw bone and connected nerve system.

Know about dental decay and plaque formation and how to look after your teeth

Know that you need calcium in your diet for healthy bone structure.


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