What Is a Talon Cusp?

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When you look in the mirror, you most likely see two rows of smooth, rectangular teeth. Although your permanent teeth probably didn't come in for a number of years, they began developing before you were born. According to the Dental Health Foundation, permanent teeth begin to develop when a fetus is about 20 weeks old. Many people hope for smooth, even teeth, but the complexity of the tooth development process means that anomalies sometimes develop.

A talon cusp is an example of a rare dental anomaly. It develops before the teeth have calcified, usually because of evagination, a process during which the developing tooth develops an outgrowth on the tongue side of the tooth, according to an article in BMJ Case Reports. The cusp gets its name because of its shape: It looks like a talon or eagle's claw sticking out of the crown of the tooth. Is a talon cusp something you should be concerned about? Learn more about how common this condition is and what you can do about it.

How Common Are Talon Cusps?

Talon cusps are rare. The anomaly is thought to affect between 0.04 and 8 percent of the population, according to a case report in the Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology Journal (OMPJ). The anomaly was first described in 1892 and got its name in 1970.

A cusp can develop on either a primary or a permanent tooth but more commonly develops on a permanent tooth. The OMPJ report points out that talon cusps appear on the permanent teeth about 75 percent of the time and on the primary teeth the other 25 percent of the time. The cusps are more common in men.

Talon cusps are more likely to develop on certain teeth over others. The OMPJ report states that more than 92 percent of cases involve an upper tooth, and eight percent of cases involve a bottom tooth. The cusps most frequently occur on the maxillary lateral incisors, the two teeth just to the sides of the center front teeth. They also sometimes form on the front teeth and occasionally appear on the canines.

What Causes a Talon Cusp?

Dentists don't know what exactly causes a talon cusp. The anomaly may have a genetic component that runs in families, notes the OMPJ report. It's also thought that environmental factors like trauma to the developing tooth bud could play a role in cusp formation. A case report in the Journal of Dentistry and Oral Biology notes that it's likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors that contribute to the formation of talon cusps, not exclusively one or the other.

Effects on Dental Health

Talon cusps usually form on the chewing or tongue-facing sides of the teeth, and if they're small, they might not cause any trouble for the individual, explains the Journal of Dentistry and Oral Biology report. If a talon cusp is located on the back of a tooth and can't be seen from the front, is there a reason to be concerned about it? Talon cusps aren't just aesthetically concerning. If the cusp is large, it can also contribute to dental problems like cavities, gum irritation and injury to the lips or tongue. In certain cases, a cusp can make it challenging to speak or eat.

Treatment Options for Talon Cusps

Talon cusp treatment depends on the size of the cusp, its makeup and when it is diagnosed. Small cusps may not need treatment at all, reports the Journal of Dentistry and Oral Biology report. If the cusp is diagnosed early, it may be gradually ground down over time, creating a smooth tooth surface. However, if the cusp contains tooth pulp that has become infected, endodontic treatment might be necessary.

If you notice a cusp-like projection or another type of anomaly on one of your teeth, your best bet is to see your dentist, especially if the issue is causing you discomfort. Your dentist will work with you to come up with a treatment plan that alleviates your concerns and makes you more confident in the appearance of your smile.

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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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What Are The Different Parts Of A Tooth?

Each tooth has several distinct parts; here is an overview of each part:

  • Enamel – this is the outer and hardest part of the tooth that has the most mineralized tissue in the body. It can be damaged by decay if teeth are not cared for properly.

  • Dentin – this is the layer of the tooth under the enamel. If decay makes it through the enamel, it next attacks the dentin — where millions of tiny tubes lead directly to the dental pulp.

  • Pulp – this is the soft tissue found in the center of all teeth, where the nerve tissue and blood vessels are located. If tooth decay reaches the pulp, you usually feel pain and may require a root canal procedure.