Teeth in the Animal (and Human) Kingdom and the Importance of Dental Hygiene

The different variety of animals on Earth can be fascinating to think about. They come in all shapes and sizes, and their teeth come in all shapes and sizes too. There are teeth designed to cut through flesh, chop down trees, inject poison, and so much more!

When we notice the differences between teeth of different species, it helps us recognize exactly how important teeth actually are. In many circumstances, the type of teeth an animal possesses determines their behavior. A snake couldn’t survive without its fangs, and a hippo couldn’t defend itself without its own teeth. In many ways, teeth define animal existence.

The importance of teeth should lead us to reflect on how we treat our own. Like animals, our teeth define much of what we do. Historically, humans have constantly taken steps to improve dental hygiene, underscoring its significance. If we know the importance of our own teeth, we can better understand why our personal dental habits are important.

Shark Teeth

Sharks depend on their teeth for hunting. However, sharks often lose their teeth after attacking their prey. To compensate, sharks developed several rows of teeth that simply replace broken front teeth. Sharks carry hundreds of teeth in their mouths for the duration of their lifetimes.

Sharks also have very hard teeth. Their teeth have a layer of fluoride, the same chemical in our toothpaste, so sharks never get cavities, and their teeth stay strong despite their violent hunting behaviors.

Beaver Teeth

Beavers have to do a lot with their teeth (not just eating) to survive. They need big teeth to cut through wood to get materials for their homes. And since beaver teeth have to do so much more than human teeth, they have to have a different construction.

Beaver teeth have a special shape with rough edges outwards, to create a sharp cutting surface to cut wood. Unlike human teeth, beaver teeth keep growing through their whole life and only stay a manageable length if the beaver cuts wood, eats, and grinds its teeth.

Monkey Teeth

To stay healthy, humans need an assortment of dental products like toothpaste and mouthwash. One would think that without these monkeys, the closest animal to humans, would be plagued by cavities all the time. It turns out that monkeys have developed behaviors that support proper dental hygiene. In fact, Japanese scientists found that monkeys teach their young how to floss with strands of hair.

Bear Teeth

Bears are omnivores like us, so they eat a variety of food. While bears have very large incisors for tearing flesh, they also have a strong set of molars that chew up food like parries and nuts. Bears give us a good example of how teeth reflect a creature’s diet. Most of a bear’s food comes from vegetation, therefore they use their molars more than their incisors.

Human Teeth

Like animals, our teeth fit our diet. They can work together to chew up most types of food, which is why we have such a varied diet.
Each tooth plays a special role:

  • Incisors are our four front teeth. They cut and chop food into manageable portions for our other teeth to process.
  • Canines are the sharp pointy teeth right next to our incisors. They have sharp points and edges, and they tear food into smaller chunks.
  • Premolars are the next teeth as we go down the line. They hold food in place and crush it so we can swallow it easily.
  • Molars are our eight back teeth. They are the strongest teeth and work with the tongue to grind food down.

Dental Health over the Ages

We don’t have fluoride in our teeth like sharks, and we value a white, beautiful smile more than our animal counterparts, so we’ve tried a little harder to maintain dental health.

For millennia, humans have recognized the need to keep their teeth healthy. Toothpaste and tooth brushes have existed since ancient Egypt and China. Typically, toothbrushes were made out of some kind of animal hair attached to some type of wood. Specific types of trees were chosen because they could freshen breath.

Toothbrushes eventually made it to Europeans, who created a toothbrush much like our own using wood and horse hair. Invented in the 1930s, nylon revolutionized tooth-brushing by offering us a softer material to brush with. Brushing became a far more pleasant experience.

Humans developed a variety of toothpastes over the years. Ancient Egypt used hooves and egg shells to form their toothpaste. The Romans used crushed sea shells with bark or charcoal added to freshen breath. By the 1800s, Europeans used soaps and powders as toothpastes. In the early 1900s recognizable toothpastes developed, including ones with fluoride.

In addition to our own history, animals can show us why it’s important to take care of our teeth. Like animals, our teeth fit our dietary needs. If you want to continue to eat the food you enjoy, you need to make sure your teeth stay healthy.  Take steps to protect your unique set of teeth and start practicing good dental hygiene.

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