Brushing your teeth is a habit that many of us had instilled into us as children. It’s also pretty important as far as promoting good dental hygiene and preventing cavities.
That being said, when you look at other members of the animal kingdom, tooth brushing doesn’t seem to be necessary. After all, animals don’t have access to toothbrushes in the wild and they don’t go in for dental checkups either.
So, why do animals not have to brush their teeth?
Animals don’t have to brush their teeth for several possible reasons, such as having a diet that cleans their teeth, having multiple sets of teeth, or having teeth that are constantly growing. Plus, animals don’t eat a sugary diet that causes cavities and some have shorter lifespans so dental health isn’t a concern.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at all these possible reasons that animals don’t have to brush their teeth. I’ll also provide some examples of which animals fit into which categories and talk about those few animals that do need dental care or regular brushings.
Why Do Animals Not Have to Brush Their Teeth?
Animals don’t have to brush their teeth for a number of reasons. It may come down to their unique dental patterns, the foods they eat (or don’t eat), and having shorter lifespans. Let’s take a closer look.
Reason 1: Some Animals Have A Diet That Cleans Their Teeth
A big difference between wild animals that don’t require dental care and those in captivity or domesticated pets is that wild animals eat raw foods. Raw foods take longer to break down. In the case of herbivores, for example, their teeth get cleaned by chewing their food.
The tough fibers of plants also don’t break down easily, so many animals spend a lot of time chewing. This is especially true of herbivores that do not have more than one stomach. Without all this extra chewing, it would be very hard for these animals to digest the nutrients from the plant matter they eat.
This isn’t necessarily the same for carnivores. Often, they rip pieces of meat off and swallow it whole, rather than chewing through the tough fibers. However, many carnivores chew on bones to get to the marrow in the middle, and chewing on bones also cleans their teeth. Plus, there are even animals like hyenas that can chew and digest bones.
Reason 2: Animal Diets Aren’t Full Of Sugar
In general, animals aren’t big sugar eaters. In fact, certain animals don’t even have the tastebuds to detect sugar, so they don’t have a sweet tooth at all.
As we know, sugary diets are something that greatly contributes to cavities among human populations. Bacteria in the mouth metabolize sugars from what we eat and drink, creating acids that break down enamel and dentine. Over time, these weakened teeth become susceptible to cavities.
Of course, this may have you wondering about certain animals that do consume sugar as part of their natural diet. For example, giant pandas are known for eating bamboo but they also enjoy sugarcane.
In fact, research shows that giant pandas can detect all six simple sugars that were tested, plus some artificial ones. The same study showed they prefer sugar water to regular water.
That being said, some pandas are prone to cavities. This doesn’t necessarily correlate to sugar consumption, though, because tooth wear and loss are common even in pandas that don’t consume sugary plants.
Fortunately, pandas have enamel that regenerates itself over time, so they don’t have to worry about cavities as much as the average human does.
Reason 3: Some Animals Have Unique Dentition
Dentition is a broad term that describes the number, type, development, and arrangement of teeth in a human or animal. In addition to dentition making a difference, the hardness of enamel and how strong an animal’s teeth are also play a role in why they do not need to brush their teeth.
We’ve already talked about some incredible animal teeth in previous articles, but here’s a look at a few examples of how different dentition makes it unnecessary for these animals to brush their teeth.
Sharks are one of those animals that are constantly losing and replacing their teeth. They have multiple sets of teeth they go through in their lifetime and since they don’t have permanent teeth like humans do, brushing their teeth isn’t really necessary.
Wild boars have teeth that grow outside their mouth called tusks, and these never stop growing. In the case of wild boars, their upper tusks are worn down by use and their lower tusks grind against the upper tusks, leaving them shorter and incredibly sharp.
Since these animals with tusks have teeth that keep growing, they don’t really need a toothbrush. Some other tusked animals that fall into this category include manatees, walruses, and elephants.
Squirrels And Other Rodents
While they don’t have tusks, squirrels and other rodents are another example of animals with teeth that don’t need to be brushed because they are constantly growing. Often, these animals eat a diet or have chewing habits that keep their constantly growing teeth in check, so it’s not really important for them to brush their teeth.
In addition to other members of the rodent family, some animals with teeth that never stop growing include rabbits, some toothed reptiles like crocodiles and alligators, and toothed fish like the Pacific lingcod.
Reason 4: Some Animals Have Shorter Lifespans
Something else to consider is that many animals have shorter lifespans than humans. According to the CDC, humans (in the United States) have an average life expectancy of 76.1 years.
When you look at animals, many marine animals have long life expectancies and bowhead whales can live up to 200 years in the wild. There are also some land animals with long life expectancies, with horses, donkeys, African elephants, and chimpanzees all having a record of 50 year lifespans in captivity, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife. Indian elephants have lived as long as 70 years in captivity.
Of course, though, there are a lot of other animals that don’t live as long. Hedgehogs, for example, only live three years. Wolverines live for 12 years, brown bears for 25, and the western lowland gorilla only lives for 35 years. These animals may not need to worry about dental care because they sadly don’t live long enough to have to worry about tooth decay and cavities.
How Come Animals Don’t Get Cavities?
The biggest reason that animals don’t get cavities is that they don’t eat the same sugary diets as humans. Things like drinking sugary beverages, frequent snacking, poor dental health, and brushing habits, and even the specific bacteria found in your mouth affect your likelihood to develop cavities.
In the case of animals, these factors aren’t usually an issue. Many animals don’t have the receptors in their mouth to taste or have a taste for sweets. This includes domesticated cats, dolphins, and many carnivorous animals.
In addition to the diets being different, animals have different bacteria found in their mouths. This study, for example, compared bacteria in a human’s mouth to that of a dog’s mouth. While it cannot be said that a dog’s mouth is cleaner, they do have different bacteria than those found in a human’s mouth.
That being said, there are cases where animals in captivity develop cavities and need dental care. This may be caused by differences in their diet and natural habitat.
Just check out this gorilla getting his teeth brushed!
Of course, some animals in the wild develop cavities and dental problems as well. The difference is that animals in the wild are less likely to get dental care when needed, so their problems may become critical and they may even die if their dental problems interfere with their ability to eat.
Are There Any Animals That Need Their Teeth Brushed?
It is often recommended that domesticated animals like cats and dogs have their teeth brushed. This is because, unlike their relatives in the wild, domesticated animals do not eat raw diets. Instead, they often eat pet food that is processed and has refined carbohydrates. Plus, many pet owners feed their furry friends treats.
There are also cases where domesticated farm animals like horses, pigs, and goats need dental care. However, they do not require regular brushing like your pets would. Instead, occasional cleaning and dental care when issues arise are usually needed.
So, why do animals not have to brush their teeth? Animals eat a different diet than us and often, their diet helps keep their teeth clean. You also won’t find many animals that have a taste for sweet things and they don’t have refined carbohydrates in their food like the typical household pet.
Furthermore, an animal’s unique dentition might prevent the need to brush teeth, such as animals with multiple sets of teeth or teeth that don’t stop growing. Finally, many animals have a shorter lifespan than humans, so they don’t necessarily need their teeth to last as long as ours do.