Humans versus Animals: Teeth Edition!

By: Dr. Elizabeth Eggert

Eggert Family VacationThis summer, Dr. Elizabeth and Dr. Jeff took their boys on the iconoclastic “South Dakota Family Vacation.” They were lucky to visit the monuments and climb around all the amazing rocks of the Black Hills. But, one of the most amazing places was the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota. They had very interesting information about mammoth teeth and it got us thinking, “How similar are human and animal teeth?”

Humans spend a lot of time and energy keeping their pearly whites in good working order. We visit the dentist and brush and floss our teeth regularly. With animals, it’s a different story. Unless you brush your pets’ teeth, animal chompers aren’t cleaned regularly. So how do their teeth compare to ours?

Animal and human teeth are essentially the same.

Mammoth toothBoth human and animal teeth are made of calcium, phosphorus, and mineral salts. Adult humans have 32 teeth, including eight incisors and four canines for cutting and tearing. The rest are molars that come in before and during puberty.

Thirty-two might seem like a lot of teeth, but lots of animals have many, many more. Here are just a few examples:

  • hippos have 40 teeth
  • armadillos have 100 teeth
  • dolphins have 250 teeth

Snails do not have backbones, but they do have a lot of teeth. Their tongues contain more than 25,000 tiny, sharp teeth! Limpets, an aquatic snail, have the strongest teeth on Earth. They are made of protein and goethite, an iron-based mineral.

Big animal, big teeth . . . or not.

Mammoth TeethElephants are huge animals, so it makes sense that their teeth are proportionately large. A single elephant molar can weigh up to 10 pounds. Elephants also grow a new set of teeth every 10 years or so.  This is very similar to the mammoths. This is usually how paleontologists can verify the age of the mammoths we saw as fossils. Mammoths developed six sets of teeth over their lifetime.

But the largest animal on Earth, the blue whale, has no teeth at all. Instead, it has long plates of keratin called baleen. It is the same substance that makes up human fingernails. Baleen strains tiny creatures called krill out of the water. Blue whales swallow the krill whole.

Humans have the upper hand on oral hygiene.

Though hippos and shrimp may have more teeth than humans do, we do a far better job at keeping our chompers clean and healthy. Humans have cleaned their teeth since at least 5,000 BCE. Egyptians mixed pumice with ox hooves’ ashes and burnt eggshells to create toothpaste. Colgate began mass producing toothpaste in 1873.

The first toothbrush was invented in Egypt in 3,500 BCE. It was a twig with a frayed end. The first natural bristle toothbrush was invented in China in the 15th century, and the first modern one was invented in 1938 in the United States.

Do your oral hygiene habits resemble a mammoth’s more than a human’s? It’s time to schedule an appointment with Eggert Family Dentistry! Email Eggert Family Dentistry or call (651) 482-8412 today.

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