From the garden snail with 14,000 teeth, to the sea creature whose teeth can show its age, there are many wonderful and interesting kinds of teeth in the animal kingdom.
We are going to learn about some of these creatures and their teeth, and also learn why most animals in the wild do not need to have their teeth cleaned.
Most people think a narwhal’s horn looks like a unicorn horn, but it is actually a giant tooth growing from the top of its head. This tooth is full of nerves and dental pulp and is used to sense what is in the water around narwhals and help them to find food. Usually only the males develop horns, which can grow as thick as a lamppost and ten feet long.
A dragonfish that lives in deep waters by Australia has teeth on its tongue. These teeth work with the other rows of sharp teeth to grab onto its prey and hold on until it can swallow the creature whole. It is not as scary as it sounds though, because the female is only a foot long and the males only a few inches.
Another scary fish with sharp teeth is the piranha. Their razor-sharp teeth work like scissors to cut their food, and when a tooth is lost it will regrow. Their name probably makes you think of feeding frenzies and a shoal of piranhas devouring an animal in seconds, but attacks on humans are very rare.
Not all piranha species eat meat. Many piranha species are omnivores, and some piranhas are actually vegetarians! Even when feeding on meat, piranhas are not out of control. They take turns; each fish uses its razor-sharp teeth to take a bite then moves out of the way to let others have a turn.
People in South American tribes even use piranha teeth as tools. The teeth are so sharp that they work great to cut hair, carve wood and sharpen darts.
Dolphin teeth have layers like the rings in a tree which tell their age when the tooth is cut in half. Many species of dolphins do not use their teeth for chewing because these types of dolphins swallow their food whole.
A deep-sea squid called Promachoteuthis sulcus looks like it has human teeth, but these are not actually teeth, they are just lips that look like teeth. Its teeth look very different and are hidden behind the lips. This is another animal that is not as scary as it seems because it is only about an inch big and only one of this type of squid has ever been found.
A fish that does have real teeth which look like a human’s teeth is the sheepshead fish. However, this fish has an even stranger twist because it has extra rows of teeth growing on the roof and bottom of its mouth. The extra rows of teeth help the sheepshead fish grind up oysters, clams, crabs and small fish.
Sharks have some of the most amazing teeth of all. Sharks usually lose one tooth a week, then it regrows. Some species can regrow 35,000 teeth in their lifetime! Shark teeth are extra special, because the surface of each tooth contains 100% fluoride.
Shark are another species whose teeth are used by humans. They have been used as weapons, carving and cooking blades, jewelry and even medicine.
Speaking of sharks, a prehistoric shark called a megalodon had teeth that could grow to over seven inches long. This must have been a terrifyingly huge shark, as the largest great white shark tooth ever found is less than three inches long. Like all sharks, it could also regrow teeth as they fell out. If you are lucky enough to find a megalodon tooth in good condition, it could sell for $3,000!
While it seems that sea-creatures have the most amazing teeth, land creatures have some incredible teeth too. Most mammals have baby teeth and adult teeth just like humans. Some animals have unique features though. Rabbits usually lose their baby teeth before birth and are born with their adult teeth. Rabbits, some rodents, squirrels and beavers have teeth that are always growing. This is important to keep their teeth from wearing down from all the bark and tough foods they chew on. A squirrel whose teeth wore down would not live for very long!
Venomous snakes have teeth called fangs, and they deliver poison in two different ways. Some snakes, like the rattlesnake, have fangs that are hollow, and inject the poison through their hollow fang. However, most venomous snakes do not have a hollow fang. Instead a groove on the surface of the fang allows the poison to flow down the tooth into their victim.
One of the strangest type of land creature’s teeth is the common garden snail. This creature has over 14,000 teeth! Snails have a band of thousands of microscopic teeth on their tongue. They do not use these teeth to chew though. Instead, the teeth slice off the food then shred it as it passes through the tongue. When their teeth get dull, they fall out and regrow. Another type of snail, the limpet, has teeth that are even stronger than spider silk. Their teeth are now considered to be the strongest natural material in the world!
Animals in the wild don’t usually need to clean their teeth for a variety of reasons. Many types of animals, like sharks, crocodiles and snails, regrow teeth as they fall out. Other animals have teeth that regrow as they wear down. Dog saliva has a very high pH, which prevents enamel from demineralizing, and sharks have fluoride on the surface of their teeth that helps prevent cavities. Wild animals don’t live as long as humans, so their teeth don’t have a chance to wear out and get damaged.
Most importantly, animals in the wild don’t eat foods that are processed and high in sugar. Their food is eaten raw and they eat many more rough and fibrous things like bone, tree bark and plants, which helps to clean their teeth. Additionally, wild animals only drink water, not sugary drinks that eat away at teeth.
All these animals and many more have amazing teeth. Their teeth come in all shapes and sizes, formed perfectly for the type of job they need to do. Some animal teeth even have unique features to protect, clean, repair and regrow themselves. Our teeth are also unique and perfect for us, so we need to take good care of them and keep them healthy.
Do you know something interesting about animal teeth? Please share it with us!
At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.