It’s a fairly well known fact that beautiful teeth make beautiful smiles! We all know that those regular dentist appointments, healthy eating, and daily tooth brushing help keep our faces happy and our friends happier. Teeth are important, and trying to imagine life without them is just plain hard. This is truer than you might expect: humans aren’t the only ones with teeth, but that may not mean what you think it does.
Take elephants, for example. Elephants have multiple sets of wide, flat teeth that gradually wear down and fall out. They have six sets that last their entire life, so when those are gone…well, they’re pretty much gone as well. As elephants get older, its set of teeth gets progressively larger, corresponding with their age. The final set can weigh more than eight pounds, and grow up to eight inches long. What about the tusks? Yes, those are teeth as well – the only incisors the elephant has! It looks like two sets of teeth just wouldn’t cut it out on the safari.
Beavers are another interesting case study. Most of us care about our front teeth, even if there are a few other things we want for Christmas — but beavers take it to the next level. Like most rodent teeth, beaver teeth never stop growing; they need to keep gnawing on wood to wear them down to a manageable length. If you’ve ever seen beaver teeth, take a look — you may notice that they’re not quite white. Dentists recommend fluoride for teeth cleaning, but beavers come with a built-in alternative. Their teeth are incredibly rich in iron, which is woven into the construction of the tooth and works just as well (or even better!) than fluoride. Staving off acid attacks that cause cavity isn’t a problem for our little dam-building friends, but they won’t be on the Smile of Year ticket any time soon.
What about animals that don’t even have teeth? Take the blue whale, for example. The biggest mouth in the world is notoriously empty of what seems to be an integral component – teeth. Instead, the blue whale swims towards its next meal, mouth wide open, and then expels all the extra water through the comb-like baleen filter, trapping plankton, krill, and other no-chewing-necessary food inside.
Next time you’re out and about in the wild, look closely at the squirrels, dogs, cats, and birds around you. Are they similar to each other and to us? Maybe, but you’d be surprised.