A Kingdom of Teeth

8185298950_037403dc7f_bBesides the teeth that make an effort to be obvious– like elephant tusks– we might go through life without really knowing much about other species’ teeth. Well, Must Love Kids is going to change that for you! Here’s some of our favorite animal teeth for our small patients’ perusal:

The endless supply

Sharks don’t see dentists. Why? Because their teeth are constantly being replaced, no cleanings needed. Shark teeth are actually embedded in thick skin around their mouths, unlike our teeth, which are embedded in bone. Because of this, sharks lose teeth a lot easier than humans do, but to make up for it they have plenty of new ones coming in– rows upon rows, in fact, of fresh, sharp teeth for that next giant bite!

The astounding incisors

All rodent teeth are special: they have giant front incisors (just one pair, unlike humans, who have two pairs). These specially adapted incisors are the perfect tool for gnawing, which, fortunately, is the favorite activity of most rodents. Rodent incisors are able to gnaw through incredibly hard substances like wood for a couple of reasons. First, they are continuously growing, so they don’t get worn down; their lack of a tooth “root” provides a highly vascularized tooth base with the nutrients needed for a lifetime of growing. Second, the incisors have very hard, thick enamel on the front, and softer dentine on the back of the tooth– creating a chisel-like cutting surface.

The unexpected gap

Cows, and many other ruminants, don’t have front teeth on their upper jaw; instead, they have dental pads. This lack of upper incisors, which would make biting awkward for humans, actually helps ruminants efficiently get the food that they need. This is because they’re eating grass and other low-growing vegetation roughly every waking hour of the day. When a cow takes a bite of grass, she pulls it to break the blades by biting the blades against her dental pad, which works like front teeth but helps her get a bigger mouthful.

The lost unicorn

We saved our favorite tooth for last: the narwhal tooth. Narwhals are toothed whales (as opposed to baleen whales, whose unique dentition also warrants closer inspection), and one tooth in particular has been cause for wonder and curiosity– the left upper canine tooth. This particular tooth imbeds itself through the gum of the narwhal, growing into a long, spiraling tusk resembling a unicorn’s horn. Male narwhals all have this tusk, almost always from the left eyetooth, and about 15% of females also grow one– although theirs is smaller. Very occasionally, a second tusk can grow from the right upper canine. Scientists are still uncertain what the various uses are of the narwhal’s specially adapted tooth, but it has been found to work as a sensory organ; there are millions of nerve endings contained within it.

Why the curiosity about the animal kingdom’s teeth?

Kids have a special connection to animals– they help them explore the world and learn about relationships. Many children identify with other species, like a pet or a favorite animal, in profound ways. This connection can also help normalize a new situation or create a sense of comfort and safety when kids are out of their comfort zone– like a first teeth cleaning or X rays. At Must Love Kids we think talking about favorite animals or engaging in imaginative play (like learning a patient has become a saber-toothed tiger for her cleaning) is a great way to make oral health fun for our patients!

Call us to schedule your appointment with Must Love Kids today, and we look forward to hearing about your favorite animal teeth.

Photo Credit: BioDivLibrary via Compfight cc

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