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Teeth aren’t just important for a happy smile. Our teeth help us to break food into smaller pieces, making it possible for us to eat anything at all! The shape of our teeth has to do with the types of foods we eat. As humans, we eat a lot of different types of foods. However, some animals only eat a few very specific foods. In each case, different types of teeth are necessary. In fact, scientists can figure out a lot of information about an animal’s diet just by looking at its teeth! Even the number of teeth in our mouth is related to how we eat. Look in the mirror for a minute at your own teeth. Are they pointy or flat or ridged, wide or thick? Most likely, you can see all different shapes in your own mouth. Each of these different types of teeth helps you to eat all of your favorite foods.
Like many animals, humans use strong teeth to help them bite and chew foods. Without teeth, it would be impossible to digest all the foods that humans like to eat. Inside the human mouth, you can find different types of teeth, which help to bite or chew different types of foods, from lettuce to roast beef. These teeth include incisors (sharp teeth for biting), canines (long teeth for grasping and tearing), premolars (for chewing) and molars (for grinding). During a human lifetime, a person actually has two full sets of teeth. Children have only 20 teeth, which fall out by the age of 12 or 13. As these “baby teeth” fall out, a new set of permanent teeth grow in. An adult human being has 32 permanent teeth, in total. An adult uses this permanent set of teeth for the rest of his or her life, for biting, chewing and grinding foods.
The Teeth of Omnivores
Many species of animals also have teeth to bite, tear and chew their food, just like humans. Since different types of animals eat different types of food, there are also different kinds of teeth among different types of animals. An “omnivore” is an animal that can eat both meat and vegetables. To a scientist, humans are all omnivores (even though some humans choose only to eat certain types of foods). Humans and other omnivorous animals have teeth that help them to eat both plants and meats. Sharp teeth, usually near the front of the mouth, are perfect for grasping or cutting tough foods. Flat, broad teeth, usually near the back of the mouth, are ideal for grinding up food into smaller pieces.
- Ecology Theory: Omnivore
- For Most of Human History, Being an Omnivore Was No Dilemma
- Humans are Omnivores
- The Learning Zone: Nutrition
The Teeth of Carnivores
Carnivores are animals that only eat meat. Sometimes they are also called predators, because they hunt for their food. Since they never eat plants, carnivores don’t need the same types of teeth as omnivores or plant-eating animals. Instead, they have sharp teeth that are perfectly suited to tear apart animal flesh and prepare it for swallowing and digestion. Many carnivores have different types of teeth in their mouths. However, they are slightly different than for omnivores. For example, a carnivore usually has very large and sharp canines, smaller incisors and pointy molars. These tooth shapes are perfect for a meat-based diet.
The Teeth of Herbivores
Herbivores are animals that only eat plant matter. For example, an animal that only eats grasses, fruits, vegetables or leaves is a herbivore. Since plants have a very different texture to meats, herbivores do not need the same types of teeth as carnivores or omnivores. Canine teeth, the long and pointy teeth that carnivores use to stab their prey, are usually missing or very small in herbivorous animals. In some cases, the arrangement of teeth is also different in a herbivore. In general, a herbivore’s teeth are large and flat. The molars may be somewhat ridged to help grind plants. There may also be a large space along the jaw, between the premolar and incisors. This space is called a diastema. It helps the herbivore to store a little bit of food in the cheeks, making it easier to chew large amounts of grasses or other vegetable matter. That way, the herbivore doesn’t have to take a break from feeding to chew and swallow each mouthful.