Earlier this week, we shared a video of Guillermina getting a dental exam that showed a pretty decent look at her teeth (and her tongue). We received quite a few questions about elephant teeth since then, and we have shared about teeth before in previous EleFACTS, but today we wanted to revisit the fascinating subject of the elephant dental world.
As you may have seen in Guille’s mouth, elephants have four molars at one time, but will go through six sets of those in a lifetime. Each set will last about ten years, with the exception of the final one, which will remain until completely worn down and then no more will grow back in their place. When calves are born, they have milk teeth and four small molars, with the milk teeth and molars to be replaced by adult sets when they are roughly two years old. The molars grow in from the back of the elephant’s mouth as opposed from the top and bottom jaws like human teeth. There is one tooth for each quadrant that moves towards the front and is replaced when worn down. The teeth themselves are quite large: they are about the size of a brick and can weigh around four to five pounds.
As you may have seen in the video, the molar teeth are covered in textured ridges, which help to break down plant material. In African elephants, the ridges are diamond shaped, while Asian elephants have more cylindrical-shaped ridges. African teeth are ‘loxadont’ which are sloped, named after the species scientific name Africana Loxadonta. Asian elephant teeth are adapted to the elephant’s diet of grasses, trees, shrubs and bark and work by moving in a forward and backward motion to better help grind down plant material.
Photo of Rana