We know them as canines or cuspids, and they’re vital to the way we chew, speak, and smile
It wouldn’t be Halloween without the appearance of the world’s most conspicuous cuspids: vampire fangs. From self-customizable caps to gold grillz to kids’ party favors, there are all sorts of ways to acquire dentition fit for Count Dracula.
The rest of the year, most people pay scant attention to the long, somewhat-pointy teeth known as canines, cuspids, or eye teeth—the closest things humans have to fangs. That is, unless the shape, size, or position of these teeth is interfering with their smile or their ability to chew or speak properly. That’s where the dentist comes in.
“People come to the dentist all the time looking for ways to improve their smile,” says Associate Professor Aikaterini Papathanasiou, graduate program director of Advanced Education in Esthetic and Operative Dentistry at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. While she says she’s never encountered teeth so pointy they could qualify as vampire teeth, “I have seen teeth that are more pointy compared to the shape of the average canine.”
For esthetic dentists, the canines play a pivotal role in the creation of a well-proportioned smile. “The canines are considered the cornerstone of the mouth,” Papathanasiou says, because of their location and because they help guide the other teeth into proper position when chewing.
It’s worth noting that the popular conception of vampires has not always included prominent canines—fangs didn’t become de rigueur for the undead until the 1950s. (Check out 1930s-era Bela Lugosi. No fangs.) In fact, the title character of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula—arguably, the granddaddy of all modern vampires—merely had “sharp teeth.”
Tufts Now talked with Papathanasiou about why canine teeth look pointy, what can be done if you think yours are too pointy, and one thing you should never do to your canines—or any of your teeth.
The basics: The canines, also known as the cuspids or eye teeth, are located between the four front teeth (the incisors) and the flatter bicuspids, or premolars. We have four canines: two upper and two lower. Canines tend to be a bit darker than other teeth. When young children acquire their baby teeth, the canines are one of the last to come in.
Long in the tooth: The upper canines are the longest teeth in the mouth and have the longest roots of all the teeth. The lower canines have the longest crowns, the parts of teeth that we can see above the gums.
What are they good for? The primary role of canines is to tear food. (Incisors are used to cut food, and bicuspids and molars do the grinding.) Canines are part of our front teeth. Our front teeth can affect our smile, and the way we speak, particularly in pronouncing the “s” and “f” sounds. Our canines help anchor a nice smile.
On point: Some people appear to have pointier canines than other people, although it has nothing to do with vampires. The shape, color, and size of our teeth are all determined by genetics. But a person’s canines can become smoother over time due to years of chewing, or because of habits like tooth grinding. Sometimes, canines may appear to be particularly pointy, but that could be a visual trick: If canines are misaligned, rotated, or incorrectly spaced, they may appear to look longer or sharper than they actually are.
Cutting edge: There are several dental treatments that can minimize the appearance of a pointy canine, either through orthodontics if they are malpositioned; restorations such as crowns or porcelain veneers; a process known as recontouring, which reshapes sharp edges; or bonding, which can slightly alter a tooth’s shape.
Don’t try this at home! Despite what you may see on social media, never try to file down or shave your own teeth: there are a multitude of risks there, including injury, pain and tooth loss. Leave it to the professionals.