Crocodiles are notoriously cantankerous creatures, but why? It’s well known that their Alligator cousins are ornery because they’ve got all them teeth but no toothbrush to brush them with*, but what’s less known is this crazy fact about Crocodile teeth–they can go through up to 4,000 teeth in their lifetime.
*That’s a Waterboy reference, for those who didn’t catch it or were like “I’m sorry…what???”
You probably remember losing your baby teeth as a kid. Maybe it took a bit, maybe you already had a new tooth poking through. Either way, a replacement wasn’t far behind. Sadly, that’s the one replacement we get unless you can afford the outrageous costs of dental work and replacements.
Much like us, when a crocodile loses a tooth, there is already a small replacement waiting to emerge. The difference is that when they lose that replacement, they can replace it up to 50 times. Considering that crocodiles have 80 teeth (let’s see, some quick math here…), that comes out to 4000 teeth!
Of course, this does sort of present a question—why?
What’s crazier? The replacement teeth aren’t just ready and waiting to emerge, they are housed within like a Russian nesting doll. That way, when the (now) old one falls out, they aren’t left toothless for a time and can carry on about there meat-tearing, bone-crushing business.
Not ‘why regrow’, but why is there such a need?
What’s the saying? You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet? It’s like that, but with teeth.
When you (‘you’ being a Saltwater Crocodile) have a bite force of 3,700 pounds per square inch (psi), or 16,460 newtons, you’re probably gonna break more than a few teeth.
For context, it takes about 4,000 newtons of force to break a human femur, the longest and strongest bone in our bodies. Yeah, crikey is right.
A reasonable question to ask would be “for a creature with that strong of a bite, why do they have such seemingly weak teeth?”
As it turns out, they key difference between crocodiles and, say, humans or hyenas is a lack of thick enamel. We have it; they don’t.
Here’s the thing, enamel may make teeth stronger, more durable, but it takes a long time to build. Plus, enamel is the hardest tissues in the body, and a nonliving tissue at that, meaning it can’t be regenerated. Once its gone, well…
So, if you’re a creature whose entire diet depends on using your mouth and bone-crunching powerful jaws, which is the better option: 1) having strong enameled teeth, but a limited amount, or 2) having weaker teeth, but an abundance of supply?
If you’re anything like me (or a crocodile), I’d bet you’d say the latter.
Have you ever wondered how to tell alligators and crocodiles apart? There are a number of ways, including the teeth!
Alligators have broad jaws and when they close their mouths only their top teeth are visible. In contrast, crocosiles have longer, narrower mouths with a top jaw that is slightly more narrow than the bottom jaw. Wehn they close their mouth, nearly all of their teeth are still visible!
As always, thank you for reading.
After awhile, crocodile.
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The Wild Life was created in January of 2017 by, me, Devon Bowker (He/They) after finishing my degree in wildlife biology. It’s been amazing to see how things have changed over the past 5 years, both personally and here. I have tons of ideas and projects in the works and cannot wait to share them with you. Whether you’re a long-time follower or new to The Wild Life, thank you for being here.