If you have frequently been around cows, you must have noticed that you only tend to see their lower teeth – but not their upper teeth. Understandably, you may have been curious if these mammoth herbivores (and avid chewers) have upper teeth at all.
Cows have no teeth in the front of the upper jaw. They yet have upper teeth situated at the back of their mouth. Interestingly, the upper front jaw is overlaid by a dental pad. This is a tough covering seated on the top gum aiding the cow in gathering and grinding grass when eating. The cow’s flat molars and premolars dominate its dentition.
Cows have an exciting dentition. Wouldn’t you like to learn more about it, cutting across the number of teeth cows have, when they lose (or change) teeth, how big the teeth get, and how the teeth grow? These are some of the aspects we will cover in this article.
How Many Teeth Does a Cow Have?
Cumulatively, cows (adults) have 32 teeth. These 32 teeth comprise 24 molars, two canines, and six incisors. There are 12 molars on each jaw. Of these twelve, there are six on each side of the jaw.
Why Don’t Cows Have Top Teeth?
As characteristic of ruminants, cows are grazers, not flesh hunters. Consequently, their feeding regimen is optimized around gathering and grinding grass.
The dentition best equipped for this dietary regimen is one dominated by molars, as seen in the cow. Cows need these molars more than canines or incisors because there is no flesh to cut through in their diet but more grass to chew.
Scientists are exploring the possibility that sustained cycles of evolution must have caused the cow to entirely lose its upper teeth as its diet was increasingly based around forage.
Why Do Cows Have Flat Teeth?
The dental pad situated in the cow’s upper jaw is easily mistaken for flat upper teeth. Combining with the cow’s tongue, such a dental pad aids the cow in fetching increased foraged quantities at a go.
This enhances their grazing efficiency compared to the severe inhibition the cow must have experienced if it had an upper jaw solely comprised of incisors and canines.
If they had such an upper jaw of canines and incisors, cows would be unable to graze low to the ground. This means markedly reduced quantities of forage they can lap up in one mouthful.
Are Cows’ Teeth Sharp?
Cows don’t have sharp teeth. Yes, cows are plant grazers, not flesh hunters. They grind on grass. Such grinding duties eliminate the need for piercing teeth (as obtainable in carnivores).
Given this focus on grinding, a cow’s dentition favors larger surface areas over sharp pressure points. Such larger surface areas –seen in the cows’ broader and flatter molars and dental plate – aids this ruminant in chewing increased quantities of forage instead of tearing through them.
Are Cows Born With Teeth?
Yes, cows are born with baby teeth. These teeth are termed deciduous or milk teeth. As the calf matures into an adult, it loses such milk teeth, which are ultimately replaced with permanent teeth. The milk teeth are usually 24.
How Big are Cow’s Teeth?
There is no standard size for a cow’s dentition. Teeth sizes vary, ranging from as little as 3/4″ to as big as 2 1/4″. A lot of variants contribute to such differing sizes of cow dentition.
The age, diet, genetics, and even the geographical location where the cow was nursed all come into play when determining the size the cow’s teeth grow into.
How Old are Cows When They Lose Their Teeth?
As we said, little calves lose their milk teeth as they grow, with permanent teeth coming in their place. Newborn calves up to heifers of about a year and six months (in age) have milk teeth.
The dentition starts changing by the eighteenth month. By this interval, the heifer’s teeth begin to develop space between adjoining milk teeth.
By the second year, the calf would have lost two baby teeth in the center of the lower jaw, with permanent incisors growing in their place. These incisors – termed pincers – develop into the two center permanent teeth in the lower jaw.
Within the next 12 months, the cow would have lost another batch of baby teeth, with permanent teeth growing in place of their milk predecessors.
These progressive dental sessions (milk teeth getting replaced with permanent teeth) continue until the fifth year, by which the permanent teeth would have been fully formed and installed.
Do Cows Have Canine Teeth?
While not as apparent as in carnivores, cows have canine teeth. You don’t notice so canine often because they are tucked in the lower jaw bordering the lower incisors. Being that they are not carnivores, the cow’s canines are not distinctively enhanced (as in sharpened) from their incisors.
Do Cows’ Teeth Keep Growing?
Commonly, a ruminant’s teeth (a class the cow falls into) keep growing until death. For an animal like a cow that could live as long as 22 years, such sustained dental growth would have introduced substantial discomfort.
You can only imagine how hurting it would be for a cow with elaborately overgrown teeth to feed. However, that perpetual growth is checked by the fact that the cow’s teeth wear with age.
Such wear and loss in strength are attributable to the years of grinding and chewing as we know cows can graze all day.
Do Cows’ Teeth Regrow?
Yes, for heifers with temporary teeth, their teeth regrow (with a permanent substitute) when they lose their milk teeth. However, if a cow with grown permanent teeth loses a tooth, it doesn’t grow back.
Why Do Cows Grind Their Teeth?
Cows are relentless chewers. For these herbivorous folks, the bulk of their active time is spent grazing.
So this is the exciting thing about cows. When they graze, they pack as much grass as they can get, chewing them hurriedly and swallowing such semi-chewed grass.
Unlike us humans with a solitary stomach compartment, the cow’s stomach has four compartments. These are the rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasum.
Now, the said semi-chewed grass is passed into the rumen and reticulum. The rumen and the reticulum are more or less extended areas of the esophagus.
After actively grazing, the cow settles down and regurgitates the swallowed food back into its mouth in the form of cud. It now chews the food properly before swallowing again.
A cow could chew such regurgitated food as many as 55 times before swallowing it back. This could span up to 10 hours a day. Indeed, this process of regurgitation explains why a cow appears to be constantly grinding its teeth.
Can a Cow Bite You?
Technically, a cow can’t bite you because it lacks upper front teeth. Therefore, if a cow grips you with its mouth, it can only grind you against its teeth and dental pad (which is much of a numb gum). This has no penetrative pressure, meaning no injury or skin cut as typical of bites.