Hesperian Health Guides

Why do some teeth look different?

Every day 20,000 people visit the HealthWiki for lifesaving health information. A gift of just $5 helps make this possible!

Make a giftMake a gift to support this essential health information people depend on.

HealthWiki > Where There Is No Dentist > Chapter 4: School Activities for Learning about Teeth and Gums > Why do some teeth look different?


We need two different kinds of teeth to help us eat our food.

DENT Ch4 Page 39-1.png
Front teeth. Another name for them is incisors. Their sharp edge cuts food into pieces.
Back teeth are called molars. They chew and grind pieces of food into bits small enough to swallow.

The outside of a tooth is the hardest and strongest part of your body. When a tooth is healthy, it can chew hard food, even bone. The shape of a tooth allows us to swallow food when the small pieces can slide down its smooth sides.

Small bits of food often get caught inside deep lines, or grooves, in a tooth.
DENT Ch4 Page 39-2.png
Food that is not cleaned away from the grooves can make a cavity hole) in them.
Look for them on the top and the sides of back teeth. A tooth with a cavity is weak and often hurts.


  1. Ask the students to bring different kinds of food to class. Bring some yourself.
    a teacher speaking with a student.
    Which teeth did you use to eat the mango?
    All of them!
    Eat the food using first the front and then the back teeth.
    Bite a guava using only the back teeth.
    Chew completely a mango or piece of maize, using only the front teeth.

  2. Collect teeth from different animals. Let the students discover from the shape of an animal’s teeth the kind of food it usually eats. For instance, a wild cat needs sharp pointed teeth to tear meat, but a goat needs flat teeth to chew grass.
    the teeth of a wild cat.
    the teeth of a goat.
    the teeth of a fish.

    Make a poster to show the animal, its teeth, and the kind of food it likes to eat.

  3. Have each student take a partner. Let each look at the shape of the front and back teeth in the other’s mouth. Talk about the many different kinds of food we need to stay healthy. Discuss which teeth we use to chew meat, fish, mango, and other good foods in your area. (For most foods, the answer is both front and back teeth!)

This page was updated:19 Feb 2018