Have you lost your front teeth yet? It’s a big deal to lose those front-most baby teeth and start growing in your adult teeth. But it’s an even bigger deal for elephants.
As you already know, an elephant’s tusks are actually its incisors. The first pair of front teeth an elephant gets, its baby teeth, are not tusks. They stay and live entirely inside the baby elephant’s mouth. When those fall out, though, the next pair they get will grow into tusks.
But for elephants, it doesn’t stop there. Elephants are constantly growing new teeth. They don’t just lose one set, like you and me. They go through the whole process usually six times over the full span of their lives.
Sometimes, however, a tooth will get stuck and refuse to fall out. If that happens, an elephant will chew on something tough, like a tree trunk, to try and work it out.
Elephants need to replace their teeth frequently because they use their teeth like tools. Tusks dig like shovels, scrape like files, or pick things up like a forklift. Elephants use their tusks for so many things that they’ll have a dominant tusk. In the same way you and I are left or right handed, an elephant can be left or right tusked.
Obviously, using teeth like tools puts a lot of wear and tear on them. This is why elephants constantly need to be making new sets. Because you only get one set of adult teeth, it’s very important you not use your teeth as tools. As your pediatric dentist will tell you, your teeth are meant to last a lifetime. You won’t grow a new set after your adult teeth, so you need to take special care with them.