Fascinating Facts About Animal Teeth

Jul 31, 2018
Dr. Ed Grubaugh

We talk a lot about teeth here on the Grubaugh Orthodontics blog, which isn’t surprising since it’s kind of our specialty! What you might be surprised to learn, however, is that even though the shapes and positions vary by species, people and animals have much the same makeup when it comes to teeth. All vertebrates have teeth, including us humans, and all those teeth are made up of a mix of calcium, phosphorus, and other assorted minerals. They are also specifically designed for what we eat. For example, herbivores like cows and koalas only eat plants, and have teeth that are good at tearing through leaves and grass. Carnivorous animals like lions and hyenas who only eat meat have teeth suited to hunting and killing. Humans are omnivorous, and over time, our teeth have adapted to a mix of incisors, molars, and canines that help us eat a wide variety of foods.

You may wonder why anyone would ever want to learn more about animal teeth, but the truth is, it can help us understand more about our own unique teeth! It can even inspire us to take better care of them. Grubaugh Orthodontics love teeth of all kinds, and we want to help you and your family appreciate your own smiles, and do your best to keep them healthy and strong. To help motivate you, we’ve put together some fun facts about animal teeth and how they compare to our own. Keep reading to learn more!

giraffe in the wild

Fun, fascinating, and fantastic facts about animal teeth

Let’s start things by examining some teeth that are similar to our own. Giraffes have 32 teeth, just like us, but most of them are positioned in the back of their mouths. As a matter of fact, a giraffe doesn’t have any upper front teeth at all! Instead, they use their lips and very long tongues to grab leaves and twigs to eat, regurgitate them, and then they use all those back teeth to grind them up before swallowing.

Giraffes spend a good portion of their days finding and eating food, taking in over 100 lbs. of leaves daily. Can you imagine how many times we would need to brush our teeth daily if we ate that much? Fortunately for most animals, they don’t tend to get cavities the way us humans do. Their diets are naturally very low in sugar, and chewing on materials like bone or tree bark helps to keep their teeth clean. That said, not every animal is off the hook when it comes to poor oral health. Even though the extremely high pH in a dog’s saliva is good at preventing demineralization, these domesticated animals can still develop cavities if they have a diet high in sugar. It’s important to pay attention to what’s in your pet’s food, and to limit their consumption of sweets and other human food in order to keep their mouths healthy and clean. 

Some animals have a lot more teeth than humans. Can you guess which has the most? Strangely enough, it’s the snail! Some species boast over 20,000 teeth, but these aren’t really like regular teeth. A snail’s teeth are arranged in rows on its tongue, and they’re used for scraping, rather than tearing or chewing. When it comes to which vertebrate has the most teeth, the white shark is the winner thanks to having around 3,000 serrated, triangular teeth. These lie in rows within the jaws at a gentle inwards incline, but there’s nothing gentle about the three tons per square centimeter of bite they can exert! Sharks will lose a tooth and grow another in its place, just like humans, but this continues throughout their life, and can happen thousands of times. Some sharks may lose up to 30,000 teeth in a lifetime, so it’s not surprising shark teeth are one of the most common things to find on the seabed.

Moving away from the ocean and into the fields for a moment, have you ever heard the expression “long in the tooth” before? We have the horse’s aging process to thank for it. As horses get older, their gums tend to recede and expose more of the teeth, making it look like they are actually growing and providing inspiration for the popular saying. Although horses and humans may share this illusion of length, some animals truly are toothy. The hippo, for example, has the longest canine teeth of any animal. At an astonishing 3 feet long, their incisors can bite right through a small boat! That unicorn-like horn that narwhals are known for? It’s actually a tooth. The scientific name, monodon monoceros, comes from a Greek term meaning “one-tooth one-horn.” The tooth can grow longer than 8 feet and is used to taste and measure the concentration of chemicals in the water around it in order to find food. It might not be a unicorn horn, but it’s still pretty magical if you think about it. 

elephant in the wild

Keeping your human teeth healthy with Grubaugh Orthodontics

An elephant never forgets, but when it comes to teeth, they don’t really have to remember to brush, anyway. Their molars can weigh up to 10 lbs. and they all fall out about once every ten years or so. Elephants can have up to six sets of new teeth in their lives, but us humans are stuck with just one set, so it’s super important that we take good care of them! Dental technology has changed with time, so you probably won’t end up with dentures made of cow, hippo, and walrus teeth like founding father George Washington. You should still do your best to keep your own teeth clean and functional, though. Sometimes that won’t take anything more than a good oral hygiene routine and regular dental visits, but for some of us, orthodontics will be necessary to achieve a truly healthy smile. This is where our team can help!

At Grubaugh Orthodontics, we’ve created a fun, family-friendly environment for our patients. We offer only the highest quality orthodontic care, and work hard to provide an enjoyable customer experience from the first day of treatment until the last. Dr. Grubaugh will settle for nothing less than perfection when it comes to your treatment results! Our team is always happy to answer any questions you may have about orthodontics for adults, teens, or children. Get in touch with our Lansing or DeWitt office today to schedule your complimentary exam. Don’t be an animal! We’re wild about creating beautiful smiles for patients just like you!



zebra smiling