Mandibular Molars vs. Maxillary

What's the Difference?

Mandibular molars and maxillary molars are both types of teeth found in the human mouth, but they have some distinct differences. Mandibular molars are located in the lower jaw, while maxillary molars are found in the upper jaw. In terms of size, mandibular molars are generally smaller than maxillary molars. Additionally, the number of roots also differs between the two. Mandibular molars typically have two roots, while maxillary molars usually have three roots. These differences in location, size, and root structure contribute to variations in their function and appearance.


AttributeMandibular MolarsMaxillary
Tooth TypeMolarsMolars
LocationLower jawUpper jaw
NumberUsually 3 on each sideUsually 3 on each side
RootsUsually 2 rootsUsually 3 roots
SizeGenerally smallerGenerally larger
ShapeMore rectangularMore triangular
FunctionChewing and grinding foodChewing and grinding food

Further Detail


Mandibular molars are the teeth located in the lower jaw, specifically in the mandible. They are the largest and strongest teeth in the mandibular arch, typically having two roots. On the other hand, maxillary molars are the teeth found in the upper jaw, known as the maxilla. They are also large and strong, but usually have three roots. Both mandibular and maxillary molars have a crown with cusps and grooves that aid in chewing and grinding food.


The primary function of both mandibular and maxillary molars is to chew and grind food during the process of mastication. They play a crucial role in breaking down food into smaller particles, making it easier for digestion. Due to their location at the back of the mouth, molars have a broader surface area, allowing for efficient grinding and crushing of food. Additionally, molars contribute to maintaining the vertical dimension of the face and providing support to the surrounding structures.

Number and Position

In a permanent dentition, an adult typically has a total of twelve molars, with six in each arch. The mandibular molars are positioned at the posterior end of the mandible, with the first molar being the most distal tooth in the mandibular arch. The maxillary molars, on the other hand, are located at the posterior end of the maxilla, with the first molar being the most mesial tooth in the maxillary arch. The mandibular molars are usually slightly smaller in size compared to the maxillary molars.

Root Anatomy

One of the key differences between mandibular and maxillary molars lies in their root anatomy. Mandibular molars typically have two roots, a mesial and a distal root. The roots are often fused at the base, forming a broad root structure. In contrast, maxillary molars usually have three roots, namely a mesiobuccal, a distobuccal, and a palatal root. The presence of an additional root in maxillary molars provides increased stability and support to the tooth.

Root Canal Configuration

Another significant difference between mandibular and maxillary molars is their root canal configuration. Mandibular molars commonly have two canals, one in each root. The mesial root usually has a single canal, while the distal root may have one or two canals. On the other hand, maxillary molars often have three or four canals. The mesiobuccal root typically has two canals, while the distobuccal and palatal roots each have one canal. The complex root canal system of maxillary molars poses challenges during endodontic treatment.

Shape and Size

When comparing the shape and size of mandibular and maxillary molars, there are some notable differences. Mandibular molars tend to have a more rectangular shape, with a wider buccolingual dimension compared to their mesiodistal dimension. The crown of mandibular molars is generally wider from the buccal aspect. In contrast, maxillary molars often have a more rhomboidal shape, with a larger mesiodistal dimension compared to their buccolingual dimension. The crown of maxillary molars is typically wider from the mesial aspect.

Chewing Efficiency

Due to their anatomical differences, mandibular and maxillary molars exhibit variations in chewing efficiency. Mandibular molars are positioned closer to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), allowing for a more efficient power stroke during chewing. This results in a greater force exerted on the food, aiding in its breakdown. Maxillary molars, although having a larger surface area, are positioned further away from the TMJ, leading to a slightly reduced chewing efficiency compared to mandibular molars.

Implications for Dental Treatment

The anatomical and functional differences between mandibular and maxillary molars have implications for dental treatment. The root canal configuration of maxillary molars, with their multiple canals, requires careful and precise endodontic treatment to ensure successful outcomes. Mandibular molars, with their two roots and simpler root canal system, may be comparatively easier to treat. Additionally, the size and shape variations between mandibular and maxillary molars may influence the selection and adaptation of dental instruments during restorative procedures.


In conclusion, while both mandibular and maxillary molars serve the essential function of chewing and grinding food, they differ in terms of anatomy, root configuration, shape, size, and chewing efficiency. Understanding these differences is crucial for dental professionals to provide appropriate treatment and care for patients. Whether it is performing endodontic procedures or selecting the right dental instruments, considering the unique attributes of mandibular and maxillary molars is essential for achieving optimal oral health.

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