What's an Eye Tooth?

Father and Son Play in a Park after Brushing Their Teeth

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, according to the textbook Anatomy of Orofacial Structures. Learn more about this tooth's many names, its unique function and how to best care for each and every tooth 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, as the American Dental Association (ADA) notes.

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, explains the ADA.

Each type of tooth has a specific function. Canines, with their more pointed and narrowed 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 have remarkably long roots and prominent crowns, according to the Anatomy of Orofacial Structures textbook.

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, per the Farlex medical dictionary. 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, according to the Anatomy of Orofacial Structures textbook. However, your upper canines may also be more susceptible to gum recession, according to an article in the Dental Press Journal of Orthodontics.

Brushing too hard can irritate the gums and contribute to recession. The best way to take care of your canines — and all of your teeth — is to get in the habit of brushing correctly. The ADA recommends using 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.

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.