Animal Diaries Archive
Looking after your Pearly Whites!
29 February 2008
Teeth are a key component to an elephant's survival because they enable the successful breakdown of plant material to aid digestion. For such a large animal, you may wonder how many teeth they actually have. Well, they have four molar teeth inside their mouth; one on each side of both the upper and lower jaws. Each tooth has short sharp ridges along the top to help grind solid food like bark and wood and also tough plants. Elephants grind their food in a forward backwards movement of their jaws and the ridges act like scissor blades to slice the food. Molars will gradually wear down and drop out. Unlike humans, who only get two sets of teeth, elephants will replace their teeth five times in their life (60-70 years) and each time the teeth come through bigger.
The new teeth develop behind the old ones and slowly move forward as each successive set wears out and break off. After the 5th set somewhere around 40 years the 6th set is expected to last for the rest of their life and once they have worn out they can no longer chew their food and will likely die of malnutrition.
Did you know?
Asian and African teeth are shaped different. The plates or ridges on an African molar are diamond-shaped, whereas the edges of the Asian plates are parallel.
Well that's it for now. We hope to catch you guys down at the elephants enclosure and if your lucky you might even get to see the elephant's teeth up close.