Teeth are our passion, and while we spend most of our time focusing on human teeth, sometimes it’s fun to take a look at the truly amazing teeth of the animal kingdom.
So today we’re going to hold the olympics of animal teeth, to see which critters win the gold for biggest, strongest, hardest, and most teeth, as well as the teeth that are simply the strangest.
If we’re talking teeth used for biting, then hippos are the winners. If we’re talking about any kind of tooth, however, then African elephants win easily — unless it’s a question of the ratio of body length to tooth length, in which case the narwhal steals the gold medal. Male narwhals can grow tusks longer than half the length of their entire bodies, yet scientists still aren’t entirely sure what their purpose is.
Having big teeth is great, but how much bite pressure can they use? Enormous tusks are useless in this area. The animal with the strongest bite in the world is the Nile crocodile. These scaly predators can snap their jaws with a whopping 5000 pounds per square inch of pressure. For comparison, we only use at most 200 psi to chew steak!
The hardest substance ever discovered in nature is the tooth of a limpet (sea snail). They have a tensile strength between 3 and 6.5 gigapascals, breaking the previous record of spider silk at 1.3 GPa. Limpets need super hard teeth in order to chew the algae off of hard rocks. The discovery of the hardness of limpet teeth could lead to technological breakthroughs in materials for construction, protective armor, and even dental fillings!
Which animal do you think has the most teeth? Sharks, maybe? While sharks certainly do have a lot of teeth and are continuously regrowing ones that fall out, the answer is actually catfish, with the toothiest species sporting a staggering 9,280 teeth. These are cardiform teeth that look like tiny needles or hedgehog quills, and they’re arranged in rows and rows just inside their lips, angled backward so that once a catfish swallows something, it’s not getting back out.
The gold for weirdest animal teeth has to go to the crabeater seal. These adorable swimmers have teeth that are individually serrated. They almost look like Christmas trees! But don’t worry; they don’t use them to saw through muscle and bone. No, the purpose of the weird shape is simply to strain krill. They take in a big gulp of krill-filled water, then close their teeth and squeeze out the excess water, keeping all that tasty krill trapped inside.
Do know of any other interesting animal teeth? We’d love to hear about them the next time you come in for an appointment. If it’s been a while since the last time we saw you, give us a call, and make sure you’re keeping up with your daily brushing and flossing in the meantime!
Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.