The mechanisms of tooth eruption (i.e., the answer to the question of how and why teeth erupt) has been a matter of long historical debate. This review focuses on human and other mammalian teeth with a time- and spacewise limited period of eruption and analyzes recent observations and experimental data on dogs, rats, primates, and humans in a framework of basic biological parameters to formulate a guiding theory of tooth eruption. Acknowledging basic parameters (i.e., that teeth move in three-dimensional space, erupt with varying speed, and arrive at a functional position that in inheritable) eliminates a number of previously held theories and favors those that accommodate basic parameters, such as alveolar bone remodeling in association with root elongation, with possible correction factors in the form of cementum apposition and periodontal ligament formation. We have critically analyzed, summarized, and integrated recent findings associated with preeruptive movements of developing teeth, the intraosseous stage of premolar eruption in dogs, molar eruption in rodents, and premolar and molar eruption in primates. The variable speeds of eruption are particularly important. We conclude with basic principles of tooth eruption--that is, the type of signals generated by the dental follicle proper, the conditions under which teeth are moved and the clinical understanding to be derived from this knowledge.