How do animals look after their teeth?

Humans spend a lot of time and money on keeping their teeth clean and bright, but there’s no floss or mouthwash in the animal world, so how do other species keep their teeth in working order?

Most animals don’t have much of a problem with dental hygiene in the first place because of their diet. Humans suffer from tooth decay because we eat foods that are rich in refines sugars, but animals don’t come across these in the wild.

Teeth are essential for many animals, as without them they’d starve. Luckily, it’s often everyday activity the animals would do anyway that keep the teeth in good condition.

Cows keep their teeth healthy because they chew grass so thoroughly, while elephants brush their tusks (modified incisors) when hey use them to chisel tree bark. Elephants have a preferred tusk which gets worn down more than the other, so if it wears out there’s a spare in great condition.

Rodent incisors grow constantly and gnawing on food grinds them down, creating a cycle of tooth replacement. Pet rodents need to be given food that requires serious nibbling, otherwise the teeth will grow too long and get in the way.

Some pet foods contain sugar, so a regular tooth clean may be required for pets, but the high pH value of canine and feline saliva means they are less susceptible to cavities. This alkaline saliva is found in the wild relatives of our pets, in animals like wolves and big cats.

Often the relatively short lifespan of animals mean that they don’t live long enough to suffer from dental damage. Or, in the case of sharks and crocodiles, their teeth don’t last long enough as they regularly replace them throughout their lives. Sharks in the order Carcharhiniformes get through as many as 35,000 teeth in their life.


(Photo © psyberartist/flickr)