Do cows have upper teeth? It seems like a strange question, but if you ever paid attention to them eating, it’s a logical one.
Anytime you see a cow standing around chewing on grass, you probably only see those small teeth poking out past their lower lip.
The more I think about it, I can’t even recall seeing any teeth behind a cow’s upper lip. The mystery deepens and we’ve got to get to the bottom of it. So, do cows have upper teeth or not?
Yes, cows have upper teeth in the form of premolars and molars, but they do not have any upper incisors, or front teeth.
It’s true, in a way. Cows lack upper teeth and a part of their mouth where virtually every other animal has them. But, as you might imagine, there’s a good reason for this and we will explore those reasons together and the rest of this article.
Keep reading, and you’ll have your cattle dentistry certificate before you know it.
Why Don’t Cows Have Upper Teeth in the Front?
Cows don’t have upper front teeth because they don’t need them in order to take bites from grass. Instead, they have a dental pad.
This unique adaptation allows cows to efficiently graze and consume their primary food source. Cows are ruminants, which means they have a specialized digestive system that requires them to break down fibrous plant material.
The absence of upper front teeth is an evolutionary advantage for cows: they don’t need their teeth for processing meat or other tough foods, and so they don’t need these upper teeth like we do.
What is the Dental Pad?
The dental pad is a tough patch of flesh where the upper incisors would normally be. It is hard and dense, barely flexible, and is used in conjunction with the tongue and lower incisors to bite off and gather grass to be chewed by the molars and premolars.
The dental pad acts as a stable surface for the cow to press the grass against while the lower incisors cut the grass cleanly.
This method of eating is not only efficient for the cow, but also gentle on the environment: it further promotes healthy regrowth of the grazed grass!
Additionally, the dental pad helps protect the cow’s mouth from injury when testing or consuming potentially rough or sharp plant material.
Can Cows Take a Bite of Something?
Yes, it is possible for cows to take a bite out of some things that aren’t too big or too hard. Cows often take a “bite” from grass by gripping it between the dental pad and the lower incisors and then tearing it away with their head.
But while cows struggle to bite into firm foods like apples or corn on the cob, they can still consume these foods by breaking them down with their molars if they can fit it into their mouth.
Just like other mammals, the cow’s molars are designed to grind and soften plant material into smaller particles, which can then be more easily digested by the cow’s digestive system.
What Kind of Teeth Do Cows Have?
Cows have all of the same teeth that most other mammals have, including incisors, premolars, and molars.
While they lack upper front incisors, they have the dental pad. While vital for cows and used in conjunction with teeth, the pad is not considered a tooth structure.
The premolars and molars, found on both the upper and lower jaws approximately near a cow’s cheeks, are their largest teeth but not prominent from the outside.
Cows cannot open their mouths very wide and so you usually don’t get a good peek at these teeth, even while they are eating.
Do Cows Have Canine Teeth?
Yes, strictly speaking, cows do have canine teeth. But because they aren’t meat eaters, these teeth are very small and comparatively dull if you judge them against the canines of carnivores and omnivores.
A cow’s canines blend right in with the rest of their incisors. But luckily, at least, you don’t have to worry about any saber-tooth cows roaming the countryside!
How Many Teeth Do Cows Have, Total?
Cows have a total of 32 teeth if they haven’t lost any. This number includes the small canines, incisors, premolars, and molars.
As cows age, it is possible for them to lose teeth or experience wear, which can affect their ability to graze and chew food effectively. Proper dental care and monitoring are essential for maintaining the health and well-being of cows.
How Many Upper Teeth Does a Cow Have?
A cow has 12 upper teeth, consisting of upper premolars and upper molars. These are the teeth so crucial for grinding plant material prior to swallowing.
Can a Cow Bite You?!
Yes! Cows can bite, but it’s only technically a bite, usually; because they lack upper teeth up front, they are probably just going to gum you a little bit.
In fact, a cow is much more likely to bite you by accident when you are feeding it out of hand, or as a sign of affection: cows use their mouths for grooming purposes and like to nibble on people they trust.
While it’s always best to be cautious when interacting with cows, the chances of them actually biting you and causing harm are quite low.
Cows Don’t Bite Offensively or Defensively
A cow’s instincts are against biting on offense or defense.
They know that their teeth are in no way good weapons, and although a cow bite could potentially hurt you because they are quite strong, an aggressive cow is much more likely to slam into you, gore you, kick or stomp you, or run over you.
Cows typically use their size and strength to protect themselves rather than resort to biting.
Still, if you were foolish or totally incautious when feeding a cow, and you happened to get a finger between their molars when they were eating, it’s possible that the cow could seriously injure your finger or hand.
Are Cows Born with Their Teeth?
Yes, cows are born with teeth, but they are not born with a full set of permanent adult teeth. Calves are born with a lesser set of temporary teeth called deciduous teeth.
These teeth will fall out and be replaced by the adult teeth over time, but the process can take years.
How Many Teeth Do Calves Have?
At birth, calves only have 20 teeth, spread across 8 incisors and 12 premolars. They will have the full set of 32 teeth by around 5 years old at the latest, including their proper molars.
Tim is a farm boy with vast experience on homesteads, and with survival and prepping. He lives a self-reliant lifestyle along with his aging mother in a quiet and very conservative little town in Ohio. He teaches folks about security, prepping and self-sufficiency not just through his witty writing, but also in person.