Now that we’ve covered incisors and molars in our Get To Know Your Teeth series, it’s time to move on to the bicuspids. Or are they premolars? Both names are perfectly fine, and both give you some clues to what these teeth are all about.
The name bicuspid has two parts — bi, meaning two, and cusp, which are those raised portions you see on the tooth. So, bicuspid means having two cusps, as opposed to the molars, which generally have four cusps. The other name, premolars, comes from the fact that these are the teeth that grow in before the molars. You have 8 of these teeth in your mouth, two on each side of your upper and lower jaw.
So, what do bicuspids do? These are transition teeth that help both the canines and the molars tear and grind the food. In a way, bicuspids are the best of both worlds: the combination of pointed cusps help cut food into smaller pieces while the otherwise flat biting surface helps begin to break the food down, which the molars will continue. The shape of a bicuspid also looks like a mash-up between a molar and a canine — the tooth is relatively broad and square, but it also has some length to it thanks to the cusps.
Like molars, bicuspids have many pits and fissures that can trap food and breed bacteria, so it’s important to thoroughly brush these teeth to prevent cavities and root canals. The health of your bicuspids is also crucial for your smile, but not in the way you might expect. You do see your bicuspids when you smile, so keeping them healthy and white improves the overall aesthetic of your grin. However, the bicuspids also help keep the corners of your mouth from folding inwards, which you may have never realized before. So, keeping these teeth strong is structurally important, so make sure you get that brush in all those nooks and crannies!
As we mentioned, cavities are one of the most common issues we see with bicuspids. A less common issue is called Leong’s Premolar, which is when a small, fragile protrusion grows from the top of the tooth. If this protrusion breaks, it can rupture the sensitive dental pulp, necessitating a root canal. If your dentist notices a protrusion in your bicuspid, he or she will either reinforce it to make the area stronger and less prone to breakage, or the protrusion will be removed. If it is removed, the dentist will then perform a standard filling procedure to close up the resulting hole, ensuring that the pulp isn’t disturbed and bacteria can’t get in.
Your bicuspids are the unsung heroes of your mouth, and keeping them in working order is essential for a healthy smile. Have any questions about your premolars? Let us know in the comments!