What are Molars? (Types, Functions & Eruption) (2024)

Function and Purpose of Molars

Molars are the flat teeth in the back of the mouth used for grinding food. You can find them in both the upper and lower arches.

There are two sets of molars. The first set erupts when you’re a baby, while the other set erupts between childhood and adolescence.

Molars are needed to grind down hard foods like vegetables and grains so they can be swallowed safely. They also help grind up soft foods like cheeses and fruits.

What Age Do Children Get Molars?

The baby or primary molars typically erupt between the ages of 1 and 3, while the adult or permanent molars typically erupt between the ages of 6 and 13.

Types of Molars and When They Erupt

Not all molars erupt at the “right” time, but they almost always erupt eventually.

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Here is a timeline of when baby and adult molars typically erupt (and the average tooth eruption time):

Baby Molars

Baby molars (primary first molars) typically emerge around 1 year of age but may erupt before or after this time. There is one primary first molar on each side (on the top and bottom), so four total.

These molars are primary teeth, not permanent teeth, and will shed between 10 and 12 years of age. The permanent teeth (first premolars) will erupt into these spaces over time.

The primary second molars typically emerge around age 3 but may erupt before or after this. There is one primary second molar on each side on the top and bottom (four total).

A child will lose these teeth between the ages of 9 and 11. The permanent teeth (second premolars) will erupt into these spaces as the child ages.

The baby molars are the first set of baby teeth a toddler uses to grind food. They also help them learn how to chew food properly.

6-Year Molars

6-year-old molars erupt when a child is around age 6 but last for a lifetime. These are the first permanent molars and some of the most important teeth in the mouth.

There is one 6-year molar on each side of the upper and lower jaw (four total). They are the most common molars to develop tooth decay and dental problems due to their longevity.

6-year molars don’t fall out like other first molars. When they erupt, the child should see a dentist to ensure they come in straight. Ensuring the child has developed good dental hygiene habits by this age is also essential.

Sealants may be placed on a child’s 6-year molars to help prevent food and plaque debris from causing a cavity.

12-Year Molars

12-year-old molars, also known as second permanent molars, do not shed and are essential for grinding food. These adult teeth are in the back of the mouth, in front of the wisdom teeth.

When these molars come in, a child should have well-established dental hygiene routines to clean them thoroughly.

Wisdom Teeth

Also called “third molars,” wisdom teeth are almost always the last permanent teeth to erupt, typically between ages 17 and 23.

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Problems with wisdom teeth are well-known and quite common. For this reason, dentists and oral surgeons often recommend they be surgically removed before erupting.

If you find that your wisdom teeth need to be removed before or after they have fully erupted, don’t worry. Removal can occur at any stage.

Delayed Molar Eruption

Some children develop molars later than the typical eruption pattern. It’s common for some children to get their molars later than others, which isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm.

However, if the eruption of your child’s teeth is significantly delayed or is asymmetrical (i.e., one side has fully erupted while the other hasn’t), talk to a dentist.

Conditions that may cause delayed molar eruption include:5

  • Genetic conditions like Down syndrome or Apert syndrome
  • Prematurity or low birthweight
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Thyroid issues
  • Oral pathology, including cysts and supernumerary teeth

Symptoms of Molar Eruption

The signs and symptoms your child may exhibit when their molars start to develop include:4

  • General irritability and fussiness
  • Crying and biting
  • Sleep disruption
  • Runny nose
  • Fever and flushed face
  • Gum irritation or inflammation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea

These teething symptoms typically last for the pre-eruption phase, the eruption, and after the eruption. All in all, the process takes around 8 days.

Pain Relief for Teething Pain and Discomfort

Your child may experience pain and discomfort as their various molars erupt and emerge. Some tips for soothing their symptoms include:

  • Gum massage — You may be able to relieve teething pain by gently rubbing your child’s gums around the erupting molar with a clean finger.
  • Cold compress — Soak a piece of gauze in cool water or apply an ice cube to the gums. You can also let your child chew on a wet washcloth.
  • Crunchy foods — Many toddlers may be able to relieve discomfort by chewing crunchy or hard food on the affected side. Try cucumbers, carrots, or apples.
  • Avoid certain toys — Letting your child chew on hard plastic toys may hurt their teeth. Consult your dentist or doctor about safer options.
  • Medication — In cases of severe pain, your doctor may recommend a pain reliever for your teething child. Always consult with a medical professional before starting your child on any medications.

When Should Wisdom Teeth Be Removed?

Wisdom teeth may require removal by the late teens or early twenties to prevent long-term dental problems.

The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons reports that 60% to 85% of people have had one or more wisdom teeth removed.

Many times, wisdom teeth erupt into inappropriate positions and cause jaw issues. They may also lack the room they need to grow correctly.

Some commonly reported problems with wisdom teeth include:

  • Partially erupting through the gums, creating a magnet for plaque and food debris, potentially causing an infection called pericoronitis
  • Never erupting and becoming trapped (for example, due to a cyst)
  • Causing damage to adjacent teeth through resorption

Wisdom Tooth Removal Diagnosis and Recovery

A dentist can tell if removing wisdom teeth is necessary with a clinical exam and a panoramic or cone beam radiograph. They’ll recommend removing wisdom teeth if there is not enough room for them to erupt into the correct position.

Recovery after wisdom tooth extraction can take one to two weeks. However, most people can resume normal activities within a few days.

Recovery is also quicker when you’re younger. Bone becomes denser as you age. It is more difficult to extract the tooth, resulting in a longer recovery time and a greater risk of infection.

How Can I Tell if I Need My Wisdom Teeth Removed?

According to the American Dental Association, signs you may need your wisdom teeth removed include:

  • Throbbing pain in the back of your mouth
  • Ear pain
  • Gum disease around the wisdom teeth
  • Deep wisdom tooth decay that is difficult to restore
  • Cysts that may become harmful to adjacent oral structures
  • An infection that causes bad taste or purulence (pus)

Wisdom teeth don’t always have to be removed. Sometimes they can be left alone if they do not affect adjacent teeth or cause hygiene issues.

If you can keep your wisdom teeth clean and aren’t experiencing bite issues, you might choose to keep them.

Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth, like the other molars, can help us chew food.They can make it easier to break down foods that are difficult to chew, such as:

  • Certain cuts of meat
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Nuts and roots

However, wisdom teeth cannot fully serve this purpose when they lack space to erupt into the mouth.

Since the rise of agriculture, and especially since the Industrial Revolution, impacted wisdom teeth have become more common.And even today, some people have more space for their wisdom teeth than others. This may be due to:

  • Softer foods— Modern food processing tends to make food softer and easier to chew. This can make our jaws smaller and weaker than they would otherwise be.7
  • Vitamin deficiencies, especially K2— Diets today tend to be lower in vitamin K2, which is essential for tooth and bone development.
  • Genetics— One study found genes to be the most crucial factor in third molar impaction.8

Tips for Taking Care of Your Molars

Your molars are a vital part of your mouth and necessary for chewing crunchy or tough foods. Keeping them in good shape is necessary for your oral and overall health.

You can do several things to care for your molars, including:

  • Practice good oral hygiene — Brush your teeth twice daily with an American Dental Association (ADA)-approved fluoride toothpaste. Floss once daily.
  • Eat a balanced diet — Maintaining a well-balanced diet is always recommended to keep your oral and overall health in tip-top shape.
  • Visit the dentist regularly — See your dentist at least once a year for a professional cleaning and comprehensive exam. Some people may need to visit the dentist every 3 to 6 months.
  • Take preventative measures — Speak with a dental professional about sealants, a simple and affordable way to protect molars from decay.

You should also encourage these practices in your children as they develop their molars.

What’s the Difference Between Premolars and Molars?

Premolars, also called bicuspids, are located between the canines and molars. There are eight premolars, which replace all of the primary molars when they fall out.

Similar to molars, the primary purpose of the premolars is to crush and sometimes tear food. They also help hold the shape of the arch and face. Without premolars, the contour of your face would change.

Premolars are much smaller than molars. They usually only have one to two roots compared to the two to three found in molars.

Summary

Molars are the flat teeth in the back of your mouth used to grind food while chewing. Several different types of molars develop at different ages. Children eventually shed all of their baby molars so permanent premolars can erupt.

Adult molars erupt between the ages of 6 and 12. Your wisdom teeth develop later but aren’t necessary and may require surgical removal. Wisdom teeth can cause dental problems if they don’t develop or erupt correctly.

If your child has teething pain while their molars are erupting, you can soothe their symptoms with some home remedies such as gum massage, cold compresses, and letting them chew crunchy foods.

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What are Molars? (Types, Functions & Eruption) (2024)
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