Imagine you are on safari, and your vehicle drives past a male lion napping under a tree - then he suddenly wakes up and yawns! You would probably feel pretty scared. Lions are frightening partly due to their sharp teeth and strong jaw, but lions would not be able to survive without their teeth. They are vital for him to remain the King of the Jungle.
All types of animals have specialized teeth. Let’s discuss a few and the reasons they have the types of teeth best suited for them.
Like the lion we talked about in the introduction, almost all of the large cats around the world have enormous skulls supporting their jaws and can open their mouths wide to catch and secure their prey. After subduing them for a meal, their large canine teeth can tear and shred their prey into smaller pieces, making them easier to swallow and digest. Those canine teeth can get up to ten centimeters in length!
These wild cats don't chew their food, so they don't need grinding teeth in the back of their mouths like humans do. They have sharp teeth to help make the food small enough to swallow. Large cats have 30 permanent teeth, that are not prone to cavities because they eat meat and no sugar, and their teeth are cleaned by gnawing on the bones as they eat their prey. Additionally, their saliva has a very high pH level, protecting them from losing minerals.
No matter how tiny or giant a snake is, it will have at least a few teeth. Snakes have two types of teeth: fangs (large, longer teeth, mainly at the front of both sides of the mouth) and smaller teeth along both sides. Some snakes even have a long "fang" at the back of the mouth to hold onto their prey until it dies. The fangs of a viper are used to strike and deliver venom. They are usually curved back toward the lower teeth to keep the prey from "sliding off." Pit vipers have fangs that retract into the jaw and then come out quickly to stab their prey. They strike, inject their venom through their hollow fangs, and then sit back and wait for their target to die from their poison. These snakes usually have a diamond-shaped head to accommodate their fangs.
Non-venomous snakes use their teeth to hold onto and move prey further into their digestive systems. Constrictors squeeze it to death and then use their tiny but sharp teeth to move the prey along their digestive system. Essentially, the teeth help them to swallow their prey whole.
Sometimes called a "water" or "river horse," the hippopotamus depends on its teeth to survive. As herbivores, they eat grass and other plants. A hippo’s back teeth are flat premolars and molars used to grind up and mash their food for the most nutritional value. They prefer to stay in water during the daytime and eat at night in grassy areas. If the molars get worn down, it may cause the hippo to stop eating and die from starvation.
The hippo's front teeth (incisors and canines) are used to defend themselves from predators - or aggressive rivals. These teeth sharpen themselves when they rub against each other while using their back teeth to eat. Their sharp canines can get as long as 1.6 feet, and their incisors can be up to 1.3 feet! They use these to smash the bones and tear the flesh of their opponents by opening their mouths and using the bite force of their strong, muscular jaws. They may appear slow and lazy when resting in their pools of water but be assured that they are a fierce competitor to those preying on them for food!
Caring for Their Teeth
Did you envision any of these animals with a toothbrush in their pocket or a spool of floss to clean their teeth?! No, we're sure that you didn't!
Although the teeth of every animal are different, almost all mammals' mouths have some form of four different types: canines, incisors, premolars, and molars. Canines are long and pointy at the sides of the front of the mouth. These are obvious in the open mouths of jungle cats and hippos but seen only in snakes when their fangs are out. Incisors are used when they want to grab and tear their food into smaller pieces to digest, whether meat or plants. Premolars and molars are at the back of the mouth and are used to grind and crush food.
While not all animals keep healthy teeth until they die, nature does provide ways to clean animals’ teeth. Some of the animals keep their mouths clean by swimming around with them open. They are rinsed by the water and letting the sun shine on them. Herbivores (those that eat plants) clean their teeth while chewing the fibrous foods they eat for an extended period. The food scrapes over the teeth, cleaning the surfaces. Carnivores (animals that eat meat) crush bits of bone and tissue that cleanse off their teeth, loosen bits between them, and sharpen the canines and incisors as they do it. Diet is the most significant factor in animal teeth staying clean and healthy. Everything they eat is natural. There are no preservatives or sugars that can cause plaque and gum inflammation. It looks like we humans need to take a lesson from the wild beasts of the jungle, doesn't it?
At Jungle Roots, we provide education, support, and treatment when necessary, if your little ones have issues with their teeth. It's hard to adhere to a tooth-healthy diet such as a wild cat or hippo as children grow up, so our dental staff can teach preventative methods to curb or eliminate problems with your kiddo's mouth. We can anticipate how their teeth will look and function with our technology. Our dentist or orthodontist can treat any significant issues as they grow and their adult teeth erupt. We are privileged to be your child’s dental home for any oral health needs!