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EleFact Friday: Molars in Motion

It’s EleFACT Friday, and today we’re talking about teeth!

Elephants differ from many other species of animals in the fact that they don’t have real tooth sockets. As molars are formed and worn down over time, the tooth itself passes through the jaw from back to front, in a conveyor belt fashion. When the teeth wear down, sections fall off in wafers, piece by piece. There are only four molars in use in an elephant’s mouth at any one time, but an elephant may go through six sets of molars in their lifetime. The final set typically erupts when the animal is in its early forties and must last for the rest of its life. Manatees and kangaroos also have teeth that move forward in this way. In our history with elephants, we have worked with two that had entire teeth fall out shortly after their arrival to sanctuary. This is a sign of improper tooth wear that occurred over decades.

Photo is of Maia, who is hiding her teeth behind her sweet smile.

Comments(23)

  1. REPLY
    Kelejan says

    Can you tell how many sets left for each of our elephants? I always thought each set fell out complete, as I did not know it was a steady conveyor belt fashion.

    Love your Friday educationals.

    • REPLY
      sara says

      There is no way to know. They don’t fall out all at once, but rather when they wear out. We’re so glad that you are as excited about elephant facts as we are!

  2. REPLY
    Bill says

    I really enjoy these interesting elephant facts.

  3. REPLY
    Mary Ann Hunt says

    This is fascinating. Thanks for all the info!

  4. REPLY
    Debbie Sides says

    Love Maia’s cheeky grin

  5. REPLY
    SHEILA says

    OH MAIA!?U CUTE BIG GAL?! HOPE U R ENJOYING UR DAY!
    MAIA MAYBE YOU WILL HAVE A NICE SWIM TODAY OR MEETUP WITH RANA! BAMBI AND MARA!HAVE A GREAT DAY MZ SMILIE??‼️ HOPE YOU STILL HAVE YOUR LAST SET OF MOLARS INTACT BECAUSE YOU R VERY YOUNG YET?

  6. REPLY
    Barb says

    Teeth! What a good EleFact topic! Always enjoy learning more about elephants and hearing news about our girls at ESB.

  7. REPLY
    Nancy Shaw says

    IT IS SWEET !!

  8. REPLY
    Cintia Abney says

    If they lose it prematurely, does it impact their feeding, their chewing and consequently their nutritional intake?

    • REPLY
      sara says

      It’s possible that it could, though we’ve never worked with an animal who has lost all of their teeth. Captive animals don’t spend 20 hours a day chewing, so there is not enough wear to cause them to fall out. If that did happen, we would definitely make sure they had an easy to eat diet and some supplements.

  9. REPLY
    Alana says

    That’s interesting! Do the elephants who have lost their molars still have no problem eating? or do you give them a special diet? I really like EleFACT Fridays!

    • REPLY
      sara says

      Lots of people have this same question! But, we’ve never seen that happen. It’s not a real problem with captive elephants.

  10. REPLY
    Julie says

    Oh boy, that just makes me want to hear more. What happens after their final set falls out? Sweet pic of Maia!

    • REPLY
      sara says

      Most elephants who have lived in captivity don’t go through all sets of their teeth because they don’t spend all day chewing. So, luckily we have never had an elephant with that problem.

  11. REPLY
    Wim says

    Interesting dental story. How do they eat when losing all their teeth. Must be horrible for them and cause some anxiety?
    Love your EleFact columns.
    ??

    • REPLY
      sara says

      We’ve never had an elephant who has lost all of their teeth – but if we ever do, we will definitely take good care of them.

  12. REPLY
    Beji says

    Very pretty girl!

  13. REPLY
    Sue says

    Love this post and learning new things about our Ele’s!!! Endlessly fascinating! Thank you! ❤️?❤️

  14. REPLY
    Sabine says

    What interesting facts you’re sharing!

  15. REPLY
    Sallie says

    HOLY MOLY! ELEPHANTS ARE INCREDIBLY AMAZING! I NEVER GO TO BED WITHOUT READING “EleFACT FRIDAYs”. AMAZEBALLS!

  16. REPLY
    Maureen Allen says

    Thank you for taking time to help us understand the ellies we love! Do let us know if the Sanctuary ever accepts a limited number of volunteers for two weeks of work on the more mundane aspects of maintaining this paradise.

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      We hope to someday, housing is an issue, but so is available time. But we can’t complain since elephant rescues are what keeps us most busy right now. 😉

  17. REPLY
    Katie Howard says

    Elephants are so amazing! Their teeth – well, this is just further proof that elephants are more highly evolved beings than humans! ?
    Keep the elephant facts coming please! These are fascinating! Also, Ms Maia is looking particularly fuzzy in her portrait today ?

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