Humans are just one out of hundreds of animals that have teeth. Most that do, humans included, have highly specialized teeth used for specific jobs and consuming a particular diet.
Flat, sharp teeth, like those in the front of your mouth, are used for peeling and cutting foods, then shoveling them backward to be consumed. Pointed teeth, like the canines in predatory animals, are used for hunting, grasping, and tearing food. These have very long roots in the jaw for improved sturdiness. Finally, large, flat-surfaced teeth, like the molars and premolars towards the back of your mouth, are used to grind food into smaller pieces. Each animal has a unique set of teeth designed for their particular lifestyle and diet. Here are some fascinating facts about various animal teeth.
Adult chimpanzees have 32 teeth just like humans. Unlike humans, however, apes have extended mouths and jaws with protruding teeth. Humans, who have flatter faces, often experience dental crowding and crookedness because our many teeth are confined to such a tight space where they would extend in other apes. This is routinely corrected with orthodontic treatments.
Narwhals have just one overgrown tooth that projects from their mouths like a horn. This grows in a spiral shape through their upper lip and can extend for up to 8.8 feet! Researchers have recently discovered that a narwhal’s horn is used to “taste” the water using the sensitive pulp of the tooth. This allows it to discern the temperature and even the chemical composition of the water when searching for prey or a mate. Prior to this discovery, it was assumed that the horn had a defensive purpose.
Lions don’t chew their food when eating at all. They use the powerful, sharp teeth in the back of their mouth like scissors to cut their food into chunks before swallowing. The characteristic long canine teeth in the front of a lion’s mouth aren’t used for feeding. Instead, they are extremely effective tools for hunting prey.
Unlike humans and many other mammals, a dolphin’s teeth are undifferentiated. This means that they are all uniform in shape and size rather than including a variety of forms for various uses. Dolphins also don’t use their teeth for eating, but for defensive purposes and gripping objects. Dolphin teeth are permanent and grow a new layer every year. This makes them useful for determining a dolphin’s age.
Want more fun toothy facts? Ask Dr. Zenon at your next appointment!