Did you know that our teeth are the only part of our body that can’t repair itself? This is because our enamel coating is not actually living tissue. That’s why, although tooth enamel is the hardest part of our entire body, we must protect it to keep our teeth healthy (and to keep our teeth!). Also, we only get two sets of teeth in our lifetime, which is another reason we need to take good care of our teeth (both sets!). These facts got us to thinking about the animal kingdom and the many things about animal teeth you might not know.
Animals have amazing teeth! Here, we look at some fun facts about animal teeth and the similarities and differences between humans and the animal kingdom.
How Are Human Teeth And Animal Teeth The Same?
When we look at the similarities between human teeth and animal teeth, the only animal that has the same number of teeth as humans, positioned in the same places, are apes. They also have baby teeth and permanent teeth like us, which actually is a characteristic shared by all mammals. In fact, most mammals are born toothless like humans to make it easier to feed, and then we lose our baby teeth as we are weaned off milk and our permanent teeth grow in.
Humans are similar to giraffes in that we both have 32 teeth. However, giraffes only have back teeth or “molars” without any upper front teeth. This makes it easier for them to chew their fibrous, leafy food.
The most important dental similarity between humans and animals is that nature provides all living things on earth with the perfect type of teeth to enjoy a healthy diet. For example, while carnivores need their teeth to tear into meat, herbivores need their teeth for grinding vegetation. Animals that eat both meat and vegetation, like us, are known as omnivores and need teeth capable of eating a diverse diet — and all 3 categories of eaters have teeth perfect for their own functions.
How Are Human Teeth And Animal Teeth Different?
As expected, there are far more differences between human and animal teeth than there are similarities. While there are far too many to share here, let’s start with the ape. Although we do have the same amount and types of teeth in all the same places, a big difference is that ape teeth are much larger and more pronounced than ours. This is because they use their massive canines to scare potential enemies away with the threat of a serious bite.
While all humans have teeth, there are some animals that don’t have teeth at all, called edentates. Their diets don’t require much chewing because they tend to eat small things like seeds or insects. This includes animals like the anteater or large aardvark, several birds like pelicans and flamingos, sea creatures like sea urchins, sea horses and baleen whales, and other creatures like toads and turtles, to name a few.
Human teeth stop growing once our permanent teeth have developed, yet there are some animals like horses and rabbits whose teeth continue to grow. In fact, it is a common practice to judge a horse’s age by the length of their teeth. That’s why some people use the term “long in the tooth” when referring to someone who is older.
As mentioned, humans have 32 teeth, but there are some animals that have a surprising number of teeth, such as horses with 44, dolphins with 250, and a common garden snail with thousands. In fact, the animal with the most teeth just so happens to be a sea creature called a rainbow slug, boasting as many as 700,000 teeth.
The number of teeth for some animals is also impacted by the ability to regrow their teeth. As you know, human teeth can’t repair themselves or grow back once lost. However, animals such as sharks for example, can go through 30,000 teeth in their lifetime. They have from five to 15 rows of teeth, allowing them to replace broken teeth every few weeks.
Other animals have a similar ability to regrow teeth, including elephants who have six sets of molars, as well as kangaroos, and manatees. In this case, multiple sets of teeth create an assembly line of sorts, with teeth in the back moving forward as the front teeth fall out. These animals are called polyphyodonty, while humans and other types of animals with only two sets of teeth are called diphyodonts.
One last difference is that most animals don’t worry about tooth decay. Because they eat natural diets, they don’t have dental issues related to sugar like humans do. Many species also chew on things like bark to help keep their teeth clean. So, unlike humans who need to brush, floss, and see our dentists twice a year, animals with diets rich in raw foods and fibre clean their teeth naturally and use chewing action to massage their gums, which helps them maintain gum and bone health. Humans follow a good oral health regime by eating a healthy diet and seeing our dentist twice a year to help us maintain good dental health.
How Can We Keep Our Pets’ Teeth Clean?
While animals in the wild enjoy good dental health naturally, our domestic pets do require routine dental care. You can help keep your pet’s teeth healthy with these tips:
- Brush their teeth using an appropriately sized toothbrush from your local pet store
- Book annual dental exams with your vet
- Monitor your pet’s teeth to check for signs of decay or inflammation
- Watch for changes in their eating habits which might indicate dental issues
- Pay attention to unusually bad breath which can indicate infection
- Feel for lumps along the gum line, under the chin and in the cheeks to check for tumours or swelling from infection
- Avoid treat-style brushing products and stick to actual brushing instead
Why Is Pet Dental Health Important?
Your pet needs the same dental hygiene regime as you do, to protect their teeth and gums and maintain good oral health — just like humans. Pets can become quite ill if they suffer from dental issues — again, just like humans. Infections can spread throughout their bodies if dental issues are not treated. Also, paying attention to dental health is important as it could indicate your pet has an underlying health issue. Ask your vet about proper pet oral hygiene and see them at least once a year for a dental checkup and cleaning.