Most dental professionals, if not all, find themselves gravitating towards any and all things dental. It’s a second nature we cannot mask. Whether it’s tooth-adorned apparel, custom dental license plates, or just merely seeing teeth when we look at random objects. Teeth are a major part of our lives in and out of our careers.
What if we discussed the subject in a different context? Aren’t you just the least bit curious about animal teeth? Take a break from the serious side of our career and take a journey with me down a path exploring the creatures living among us.
As a previous dog owner, I found myself engrossed and extremely curious about my pooch’s teeth. I purchased a brush and dog-friendly paste when he was just a pup so that I could keep his “chompers” clean. More often than not, I found myself counting his teeth and studying his mouth with intensity.
If I am being completely honest, that close scrutiny is something I find myself doing when I am around any animal. In fact, during a dolphin encounter, I asked the trainer about the teeth of the dolphin in front of me and asked her to instruct the dolphin to open wide so I could gaze a little longer (she obliged).
Just in case you have found yourself doing the same and wondering about the creatures that help make the world go around, here are some fun facts that you can chew on.
Most have taken a long look at friendly canine mouths, but perhaps you aren’t fond of this type of animal (gasp!). Dogs have two sets of teeth, much like humans with the exception of quite a few more. By six to eight weeks of age, 28 deciduous teeth erupt. By the time puppies are six to seven months old, these deciduous teeth are all replaced by exfoliation by 42 adult teeth.1
The teething process mimics human babies and is oftentimes very difficult for puppies, creating mouth discomfort and diarrhea. The permanent dentition consists of canines (for which the dog family is named), incisors, premolars, and molars. Their incisors are used to nip, the canines are used to tear and shred, and the premolars and molars are for crushing and shearing, working much like scissors.
Dogs rarely chew, and most of their food is swallowed in one large gulp, where enzymes later digest it. Dogs’ teeth are made just like humans in the fact they have pulp, dentin, and enamel. However, they rarely get dental decay because they do not eat a sugar-enriched diet (or shouldn’t) like humans.
If dogs do develop tooth decay, it is often from foods such as bananas and sweet potatoes. Our canine friends can develop periodontal disease, and thus it is important to maintain their oral hygiene.
For those of you who are not dog-loving people, perhaps you are fonder of the feline family. At three weeks of age, the teeth begin erupting, and by six to eight weeks, they have developed 26 deciduous teeth.2 By the time the average kitten reaches six to seven months of age, all 30 adult teeth will have erupted.2
Strangely similar to humans, cats’ deciduous teeth may become retained if a permanent tooth erupts in the wrong place and is termed a persistent tooth. Persistent teeth can create food impaction, thus contributing to dental decay and periodontal disease. In some circumstances, a persistent tooth can cause abnormal growth and development of the jaw bones and will need to be treated by a veterinarian.2
Cats are carnivores, and they mostly have pointy, sharp teeth to help remove meat from bones. However, they do have incisors allowing them to pick up items and nip and gnaw as they groom.
Big Cats (such as tigers and lions)
Much like house cats, bigger felines such as tigers and lions have the same eruption pattern and number of teeth; however, the teeth of larger felines are, well, bigger. The canines of tigers and lions can grow to be 7 to 8 cm in length (two to three inches), with the extinct saber-toothed tiger having canines up to eight inches long!3,4
Large felines have large diastemas between their canines to better trap prey with their massive jaws that are not capable of moving side to side like humans, allowing them to exert up to 1,050 pounds per square inch (PSI).5 For comparison, the human bite force is 162 PSI.
It’s no secret that African and Asian (male) elephants are known for their beautiful ivory tusks/tushes. Sadly, many hunters covet those tusks, making these large, intelligent animals endangered.
An elephant’s tusk is the outward growth of their incisors that begin growing around the age of 2.5 to three years of age and grow on average of three to four inches yearly.6 African elephant tusks can grow to be six feet long and weigh as much as 50 pounds.7
An elephant will use its tusks to dig, remove tree bark, for protection, or to move objects. Elephants are herbivores, and they have four molars to help grind and chew plants. Their molars erupt from the back of their mouths and are pushed forward. When these five-pound molars wear down, they are replaced with a new molar up to five more times during its life.6 The number of ridges on each molar increases in number as the elephant ages. Sadly, once the last set of molars is lost, the elephant will starve to death.
Much like the elephant, this giant creature is a herbivore with a mouth span of four feet across.10 While most herbivores generally have only flattened teeth, the hippo is an exception to the rule, featuring a complete set of heterodont teeth (incisors, a canine, premolars, and molars.)
The hippo’s incredibly large incisors, which are responsible for their horny-lipped appearance, are used to aid the hippo in snatching grass. In contrast, their one extremely sharp canine is used for fighting over food and mates and can grow to impressive lengths of up to 1.5 feet long.8,9 Hippos’ teeth are comprised of enamel and dentin with an underlying layer of ivory, which places this animal at the same grave endangered risk as the elephant. Because of the denseness of the hippopotamus ivory, they are less resistant to wear, making them a popular material used in dentures and to substitute individual teeth during the 18th century.8
The hippopotamus can open its jaw 150 to 180 degrees and exert the world’s strongest bite force of any land animal (1,800 PSI), meaning it can cut a human body in half in one bite!8 I do not want a hippopotamus for Christmas!
I love to pilfer through seashell deposits while visiting the ocean, hoping to find a shark tooth or two. I have never been successful like a patient of mine who finds handfuls every visit.
Sharks are born with a complete set of teeth rooted in the gingival tissue, and they lose teeth daily while eating, hence the reason we are able to find so many washed ashore. Unlike humans, who may have a void before a new tooth erupts, sharks have teeth on standby on a conveyor belt-like system, moving teeth forward as one is lost.
Arranged in five to 15 rows, sharks have an average of 50 to 300 teeth, depending on the species.11,12 The whale shark comes in at number one with an astonishing 3,000 teeth. In a lifetime, sharks can go through 25,000 to 35,000 teeth!12
A shark’s jaws are disconnected, allowing them to move independently and to be thrust forward to strike its prey. Sharks can pack a pretty mean punch with one bite, with the bull shark possessing 1,350 PSI.13
Alligators and Crocodiles
If you live near swampy territory, you are no stranger to these scary fierce predators. While very similar reptiles, the two can be distinguished by their teeth. The large fourth tooth in the lower jaw of an alligator fits into a socket in the upper jaw and is not visible when the mouth is closed ‒ unlike in crocodiles.14
Alligators have between 74 to 80 teeth in their mouth at once, while crocodiles can have between 60 to 110 teeth at once. Both animals will lose their teeth multiple times over their lifespan, with replacement teeth ready to fill the vacancies. Alligators will go through roughly 3,000 teeth in their lifetime, while the crocodile may go through 8,000 teeth throughout its life.14,15
More impressive is the bite force at which these two exert. An alligator has a bite force of approximately 2,125 PSI, and the Nile crocodile reportedly has a bite force of 5,000 PSI (30 times a human bite force).13 While the bite force from these reptiles is deathly, their ability to open is weak, and a rubber band would suffice to prevent it from opening.19
Don’t let these little rodents fool you. Known for their buck teeth, these creatures are able to create intense damage to trees while creating their homes. In fact, a beaver can fall an 8-foot tree or smaller in diameter in five minutes.16 However, beavers can fall trees that are up to 33 inches in diameter in a matter of weeks.20
Beavers have four incisors that are separated from the rest of their teeth, allowing for a second set of lips behind the infamous incisors. These lips act as a barrier to assist the beaver from swallowing massive amounts of water and splinters as it works.
If you have taken a good look at a beaver’s teeth, you will also notice the orange color. A human’s teeth are covered in enamel, but a beaver’s teeth are covered in iron, making them stronger.16 As these rodents gnaw wood, their teeth are sharpened, making their job easier. Due to the continuous whittling of the teeth, a beaver’s front teeth will continue to grow so that it will always have an adequate amount of tooth structure to utilize for survivial.16
Last but certainly not least is a very tiny creature that is often considered a nuisance ‒ the snail or slug. Did you know that the snail is the toothiest animal on the planet? Snails have a tongue called a radula that is covered in teeth, helping them eat. There can be as many as 12,000 teeth present on a snail’s radula.17 When tested, the tooth material on the radula was discovered to be five times stronger than spider silk, making it the strongest natural material on earth.18
Slugs also have tooth tongues. In fact, the Welsh Ghost slug has razor-sharp teeth – each about half a millimeter long – that are used to kill and eat earthworms.17
Now that you have been educated on a variety of animal teeth, you are probably wondering how this is useful. While it may not help you treat your patients, it certainly gives you intriguing information to chatter about with your patients, particularly those who need a little loosening up or pediatric patients. It may also give you a newfound appreciation for human teeth. Now, go impress your patients!
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- Dog – Teeth. (n.d.). Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/animal/dog/Teeth
- Hiscox, L., Bellows, J. (n.d.). Retained Deciduous Teeth Baby Teeth in Cats. VCA Animal Hospitals. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/retained-deciduous-teeth-baby-teeth-in-cats
- Let’s Look at Lions – Learn about the African Lion. (2020, January 20). ALERT. https://lionalert.org/lets-look-at-lions/
- Sabre-Toothed Cat | Size, Extinction, and Facts. (n.d.). Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/animal/saber-toothed-cat
- Fun Facts About Animal Teeth. (n.d.). America’s Tooth Fairy. https://www.americastoothfairy.org/news/fun-facts-about-animal-teeth
- Elephant Facts. (n.d.). Human Elephant Learning Programs. https://h-elp.org/elephant-facts
- Ivory | Definition, Uses, Trade, Products, Color, and Facts. (n.d.). Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/ivory
- Victor, T. (2022, January 14). Hippopotamus Teeth: Everything You Need to Know. AZ Animals. https://a-z-animals.com/blog/hippopotamus-teeth-everything-you-need-to-know/
- Muir, Q. (n.d.) Hippo Facts, Information, Pictures and Video’s Learn More about Hippos. St Lucia South Africa. https://stluciasouthafrica.com/hippo-facts
- Hippopotamus – The Hippo’s Teeth and Its Diet. (n.d.). Science Encyclopedia. https://science.jrank.org/pages/3340/Hippopotamus-hippo-s-teeth-its-diet.html
- Cowan, D. (2020, August 10). So You Think You Know Shark Teeth? Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. https://www.pdza.org/so-you-think-you-know-shark-teeth/
- How Many Teeth Do Sharks Have and Other Sharks’ Teeth Facts. (2021, October 8). Discovery UK. https://www.discoveryuk.com/sharks/how-many-teeth-do-sharks-have-and-other-sharks-teeth-facts/
- Spanner, H. (n.d.). Top 10: Which Animals Have the Strongest Bite? BBC Science Focus. https://www.sciencefocus.com/nature/top-10-which-animals-have-the-strongest-bite
- American Alligator. (n.d.). Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/american-alligator
- Crocodilian. (n.d.). San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/crocodilian
- Kiley. (2019, June 24). Beaver Teeth are Tough as Iron, Literally. Dickinson County Conservation Board. https://dickinsoncountyconservationboard.com/2019/06/24/beaver-teeth-are-tough-as-iron-literally/
- Ling, T. (2020, December 16). Do Snails Have Teeth? BBC Science Focus Magazine. https://www.sciencefocus.com/nature/do-snails-have-teeth
- Fessenden, M. (2015, February 18). Snails’ Teeth Beats Spider Silk as Nature’s Strongest Material. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/spider-silk-loses-top-spot-natures-strongest-material-snails-teeth-180954346/
- All about Crocodiles, Their Strength, and Rubber Bands. (2018, September 20). Herald. www.heraldnet.com/life/all-about-crocodiles-their-strength-and-rubber-bands
- Featherstone, N. (2021, September 18). Why Do Beavers Cut Down Trees? Forest Wildlife. https://www.forestwildlife.org/why-do-beavers-cut-down-trees/