Narwhals Are Underwater Peacocks (or Rams)
Since by and large only male narwhal have tusks, the primary function of the narwhal tusk is probably for display, like the peacock’s tail, or dominance battles, like a ram’s horns. Which is more important hasn’t been deciphered yet, because we still know very little about these creatures.
With the tusk growing to be more than a third of the male whale’s total length, size is likely an important selection factor, but whether that’s for display or battles, we don’t know.
Narwhal battles aren’t like jousting competitions. They’re more like closely-fought sword duels. The males press their heads together and rub their horns against each other until one seemingly relents.
However, although the sexual selection argument still holds a great deal of sway because the tusk is overwhelmingly a male feature, recent research suggests that narwhal teeth have a secondary function: they’re designed to sense water conditions.
Unlike most teeth, the narwhal tusk has its enamel underneath, surrounding the pulp. On the outside is a more porous, dentin-like material, and through this material threads millions of nerve endings. These nerves allow the narwhal to sense changes in the water, everything from temperature changes to pressure changes to the chemicals given off by the fish they eat. This gives the narwhal an important tool for sensing its environment and utilizing the resources.
Although it’s useful, it can’t be that useful, or else females would likely also have them as well. And, who knows, maybe they will. Sometimes females have tusks, and if they prove useful for purposes other than mating and display, it’s like that more and more females will have them in time.
So although for you, tooth sensitivity may send you running to the dentist, for the narwhal it gives them new ways to sense their environments, like a snake’s tongue or an ant’s antennae. And it’s really the males who are the most sensitive members of the narwhal family.
What Sensitive Teeth Mean For Humans
Unlike narwhals, tooth sensitivity for humans is usually an indicator of something else going on. Patients who have sensitive teeth might have a cavity, gum disease, a worn or broken filling, chipped or cracked tooth, thin enamel, or exposed tooth root. To help alleviate sensitivity, it might be helpful to use desensitizing toothpaste or get an extra fluoride treatment. Some patients might need dental bonding or a gum graft to cover their exposed tooth roots or a root canal to relieve an infected tooth.
If you experience any type of tooth sensitivity, consider visiting our dental office for a checkup so we can make sure a bigger problem isn’t occurring. Please contact Collins Dentistry & Aesthetics today by calling (509) 532-1111 to schedule an appointment.