Elephants are remarkable creatures. The largest living land animals, they are remarkably intelligent animals who can show understanding, compassion, and even creativity. And their teeth are no less remarkable.

Elephant Tusks

The most visible elephant teeth are their tusks, which grow out on either side of their trunk. Unlike narwhal tusks, elephant tusks are essentially structured just like your teeth, only larger. Although many tusks are canines, elephant tusks are actually incisors that grow to remarkable proportions. How remarkable depends on the elephant.

The largest known elephant tusks are the Kilimanjaro tusks, currently owned by the British Museum, which are more than ten feet long and each weighing about 200 pounds each. These days, most elephants have much shorter tusks. The “great tusker” gene has been selected against by hundreds of years of ivory hunting, so relatively few elephants grow large tusks these days.

All African elephants grow tusks, but Asian elephants often do not. Both male and female Asian elephants may be without tusks, and about 50% of Asian elephants develop what are known as “tushes,” or tusks without pulp.

An Important Lesson from Elephant Teeth

Other than their tusks, all elephant teeth are molars or premolars. It’s partly the teeth that distinguish Asian and African elephants. Asian elephants have very flat teeth with ridges on them. They work by grinding food between them in a forward and back motion. African elephants have teeth that have raised sections and sloped sides to their teeth.

Like humans, elephants have a limited number of teeth. Over the course of its life, an elephant will have six sets of teeth. The first two are present at birth. As each set of teeth wears out, it breaks off and is replaced by a new set. The last set of teeth emerges at age 30 and is lost about age 65. Once it loses its last set of teeth, an elephant will slowly starve to death, and this is one of the most common causes of natural death among elephants in the wild.

The elephant reminds us that a long, healthy life depends on healthy teeth. Humans only have two sets of teeth, and although dental implants have been called our third set of teeth and dentures can help, once we lose our teeth, we suffer a diminished quality of life.

At Collins Dentistry & Aesthetics, we can help you keep your teeth healthy for a long life. If you are overdue for an appointment, please call 509-581-4188 (Spokane) or 509-927-2273 (Spokane Valley) today.