2 teeth

When Teeth Turn to Tusks

Have you ever wondered what the differences between your teeth and those beautiful tusks of animals like elephants and walruses? Well, we are here to break it down for you.

Firstly, is a tusk a tooth?

Essentially, yes. The tusk in most mammals is nothing but an elongated canine tooth. The narwhal and the walrus are examples. An elephant’s tusk is distinct in that it is an incisor. So basically, a tooth turns into a tusk. By the way, for those who haven’t been up close to an elephant, it does have teeth other than the tusks. An interesting fact: the tooth of an elephant can fall out 6 times!

Right, so what are the differences between a tooth and a tusk?

The main difference is that teeth are designed to help chew food, while a tusk is not designed for chewing at all. Tusks serve as tools, arms (pun intended), dominance displays and, as is speculated in the case of narwhals, even used to communicate.

Other differences go bone deep. There is a bit of a difference in the composition of a human tooth and an animal’s tusk. A human tooth, we know, is composed of dentin and pulp in its core and is sheathed in enamel as protective layers. The tusk does not follow such a standard. Its composition is adapted to serve unique functions in different mammals. The narwhal, for example has a truly unique tusk. In composition, it is the absolute opposite of a human tooth. Simply put, it’s inside out! The soft portion is on the outside, making the tusk super sensitive. A very interesting point of difference is seen in the dental pulp of humans and that of the elephant. The tusk pulp of the elephant shows a remarkable healing ability and production of reparative dentin that is exponentially greater than that in humans. ‘Tusk’ everlasting? Definitely not. But it is much more pain resistant than our tooth.

All in all, your teeth are not tusks, so don’t treat them like one.