Elephant’s Teeth Decide When the Elephant Dies

By Anupum Pant

It’s sad that elephant tusks are interesting items and attract ivory poachers. But their other teeth, are more interesting in a way because they actually determine the natural lifetime of an elephant.

Elephant’s main diet consists of grass, and it’s high in silica – a very abrasive material. At any point of time, an elephant uses only one tooth in each of their half jaw – a total of four teeth in the mouth. They use their teeth in sequence, one by one. As abrasive material wears their tooth out badly in the front, it is pushed and replaced by the tooth growing behind it. This replacement happens only 6 times. And every new teeth is stronger than the previous one.

The last molar usually erupts at the age of 25 and lasts longer than the other. The elephant has to manage it well because this one serves it for the rest of its life. So, they rip the grass out and shake it off to drop most of the silica off their roots. When this wears, the elephant can no longer chew its food properly. Thus malnutrition sets in and the elephant dies by the time it is 60-70 years old.

In controlled environments like zoos, elephants are usually fed with softer food after all their teeth are gone which enables them to live slightly longer this way.

Kangaroos have a similar thing going on in their mouths too.

A company that would make elephant dentures could probably be a very profitable company due to the great demand of its product – it would extend the life of elephants. However, it’d be tough to find elephants with jobs who could pay for a luxury like this.

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