#HealthFeature: What’s An Eye Tooth?

PLANTATION, Florida – Would you “give your eye teeth” for something important? Over the years, these teeth have found their way into a few colloquial phrases such as that one. The eye tooth, also known as a canine tooth, is one of the longest and most stable teeth in your mouth.

Location in the Mouth

Eye teeth are another name for your upper canine teeth or cuspids. These upper teeth subtly resemble the fangs in other mammals and are visible when you smile. In total, you have four canine teeth: two in your upper jaw and two in your lower jaw. They’re located third from your front teeth, between your incisors and bicuspids.

The Role of Your Eye Teeth

Your 32 permanent teeth are separated into four types: incisors, cuspids, premolars and molars. A child’s primary upper cuspids typically erupt after their incisors, when they are around 16 to 22 months old, and their upper permanent cuspids appear between 11 to 12 years old.

Each type of tooth has a specific function. Canines, with their more pointed and narrow shape, help you grip and pierce through food easily as you bite, as the Anatomy of Orofacial Structures textbook notes.

You can easily spot these teeth in your smile because of their prominent point and sharp contour. They are some of the strongest teeth in your mouth — and this is particularly true of the two in your upper jaw, which has remarkably long roots and prominent crowns.

Origins of the Nicknames

One look at these long, pointed teeth makes it easy to see why they are often called “canines.” After all, they do resemble the fangs of dogs. The term “cuspid” is thought to originate from “cuspis,” the Latin word for point. But the origin of the nickname “eye tooth” might leave you scratching your head.

While it’s not exactly clear when the upper canines earned the nickname of “eye teeth,” there are a couple of possible reasons as to why they may have obtained this moniker. First, it may be because they’re located under the eyes. Alternatively, it could be because their roots are some of the longest in your mouth (though they don’t anatomically extend to the eyes).

It’s thought that the phrase “to give an eye tooth” came from sayings like “to give one’s eye” or “to give one’s right arm” for something of value. This colloquialism only emphasizes the importance of these special teeth!

How to Keep Eye Teeth Healthy

Because of their unique shape, these teeth tend to be easier to keep clean. However, your upper canines may also be more susceptible to gum recession.

Brushing too hard can irritate the gums and contribute to recession. The best way to take care of your canines — and all your teeth — is to get in the habit of brushing correctly. It is recommended that you use gentle, short strokes, choosing a soft-bristled brush that fits the size and shape of your mouth and making sure to replace it every three to four months.

Your gums do not regenerate, so it’s important to protect them. Taking care of this tender area around your eye teeth will help prevent gum recession and contribute to a healthy, happy grin.

Dr Sharon Robinson, DDS, owns and operates the Dental Place in Plantation, Florida, with a second office – the Dental Place Cosmetix Spa in Kingston, Jamaica. She may be contacted at 954-792-1857. Visit their website, www.dentalplace4u.com

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