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Teeth or No Teeth?

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WhaleLeapingDo whales have teeth? That depends on the whale.

Scientists divide whales up into two groups. The first group are called toothed whales because they have teeth. Among the toothed whales are the orca, or killer whales, the sperm whales, like Moby Dick, and the narwhal with it’s unicorn-like canine.

The other sort of whales are called baleen whales. Instead of teeth, they have what’s called a baleen filter-feeding system. These are not made from specialized bones like our teeth. Rather, baleen plates are more similar to our hair and fingernails.

When a baleen whale sees a bunch of shrimp or krill swimming in the sea, it’ll opens its mouth wide and swim right at them. It’ll take into its mouth the little critters and all the water they were swimming in as well. Then it’ll close it’s baleen plates across its mouth. Pushing its tongue to the roof of its mouth, the whale squeezes the water out through the plates of the baleen. The shrimp and krill are trapped inside the whale’s mouth while all the water is pushed out since they’re too big to fit through the gaps. To help trap the food, the baleen is often “hairy.” Once the water is out of its mouth, the whale can swallow its catch.

Among the baleen whales are the blue whale, the largest known animals currently on the planet. They have to eat a lot of shrimp, krill, small fish, and other food to grow so large. Because of how they eat, baleen whales want food to get caught in their teeth.

Getting food caught in our human teeth is not very pleasant. Luckily, we have brushes and floss to get it unstuck. Baleen whales need gaps between their teeth to expel the water, but gaps in our teeth can be bad news for our smiles and our gums. A pediatric dentist can tell you if a gap is a serious issue or not.

Baleen whales and people have very different ways of eating. Our mouths are perfect for the sort of eating we do, allowing us to eat a huge variety of different things. Plus, you’d look kinda silly with a smile full of baleen plates. People might think you’d replaced your teeth with Venetian blinds!

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