Do Cows Have Top Teeth (Do Cows Have Teeth Really): Why, How, Exhaustive Facts


We often see cows munching one thing or another, making most of us wonder about their teeth. Needless to say, that cows do have teeth that help them chew food to digest. 

But what fascinates us more is cows’ teeth pattern is different from humans’ or other predatory animals. That being said, cows do not have the usual top teeth pattern but a dental pad. You heard it right! It’s also worth noting that you could estimate a cow’s age just by looking at its teeth. 

However, not having a typical upper teeth series is not an exception for cows, as most herbivorous animals possess the same characteristics. Therefore, you won’t find top teeth in animals, including:

  • Giraffe
  • Antelope
  • Yak
  • Bison
  • Deer
  • Camels, and so on

In this article, we have dedicated our focus to bring to you some of the most fascinating and exhaustive facts related to cows’ teeth. By its end, you will get answers to all your whys and hows in this context.

So, without any further ado, let’s begin our journey into the world of cows’ teeth!

Image Credit: A cow’s lower teeth by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

What is unique about cows’ teeth?

Cows are versatile animals, and by now, you have already got familiarized with cows’ unique teeth patterns. However, there are more remarkable things about their teeth.

Cows have fewer teeth than most mammals. But what fascinates us more is their 24 molars in the back of their mouth. Cows also have no front top teeth and only a dental pad, a unique dental feature. 

Other than incisors, cows also have canine teeth. However, Cows’ canines are flat in shape and indistinguishable from the rest of their bottom incisors since they do not shred or bite their meal.

What type of teeth does a cow have?

The dental pattern and structure of cows’ teeth are different from humans’. Since cows’ predominantly herbivorous, they have flat crushing surfaces.

There are three types of teeth found in ruminants: incisors, premolars, and molars.

In the following table, you can get an overview of each type of tooth a cow has.

Type of toothLocationDescription
IncisorLower jawSharp teeth to cut the forage.
MolarCheek- on both upper and lower jawlineFlat teeth for chewing and grinding the food.
PremolarBehind the dental pad and incisorFlat teeth for chewing and grinding the food.
Dental padThe front part of the upper jawA leathery pad, used with the tongue to pull in the grass.
Types of teeth

Where are cows’ teeth?

By now, you have heard us stating that cows have no usual top teeth. Well, we said so because they don’t possess upper front teeth as we humans do. 

You would find cows having teeth on both sides of their jaws. Incisor teeth are located in the frontal area of the lower jaw. On the other hand, Premolars and molars are situated in the caudal region of the mouth, in both the upper and lower jaws. Additionally, cows have a teeth pad on the upper part of their mouth.

How do you count cow teeth?

Cows have different dental anatomy, which is a result of their need to graze fodders constantly.

A calf is born with temporary teeth. And if you want to count a cow’s teeth, you can keep on tracking its teeth growth from the first day it borns. Or else, you can just hold both the jaws of the cow to open it wide and check or count its teeth.

Why do cows not have top teeth?

Like most herbivorous animals, cows also do not possess upper incisors. So, most of us wonder why their teeth pattern is like that?

One of the core reasons for cows not having a usual top teeth pattern is that they don’t bite food while eating. Cows’ eating pattern is different from that of omnivorous or carnivorous animals. Cows tend to wrap their food to pull them inside their mouth, and their upper teeth pad helps them in this process. 

Adaptation to such eating tactics has likely reduced the requirement for the upper front teeth among cows. 

How do cows use their dental pad?

Image Credit: The dental pad by Helena Bowen and Richard Bowen (CC BY-SA 3.0) from Wikimedia

A cow’s dental pad can be found in its upper jawline in place of frontal teeth. This is a rigid pad of skin with a leathery finish.

Since cows do not have any frontal incisors, they use their dental pad with their tongue to grab the forage and pull it inside their mouth. After pulling the forage inside, cows use their dental pad and lower teeth to press and cut it for chewing before swallowing. 

Do cows only have lower teeth?

Cows are unique in terms of their teeth pattern and numbers. In other words, bovines have fewer teeth than any other animal.

Cows have teeth in both their jaws and not only in their lower mouth. In addition, incisors, molars, and premolars can be found in the lower part of their mouth. 

Cows use both their jaws to put food inside their mouth and chew it before swallowing. 

Do cows have upper and lower teeth?

Cows have evolved in such a way that they have adapted their teeth pattern to suit their eating style and habit. As a result, they have almost immobile upper lips and jawline. 

However, that should not allow you to believe that they only have teeth on their lower jawline. Technically cows have teeth on both of their jaws. However, they have a leathery pad in place of front teeth on their upper mouth with flat molars on the rear side. The incisors, on the other hand, are found in the front section of the lower jaw.

How many top teeth does a cow have?

Cows are ruminant artiodactyl mammals with complicated digestive tract anatomy. And to support that unique digestive system, their dental anatomy has evolved differently. 

Cows have a dental pad rather than teeth on their top jawline.

However, you can find 12 molars and 12 premolars in mature cows distributed evenly in both jawlines. That being said, there are two sets of (3) molars and (3) premolars on a cow’s upper mouth. 

How many teeth does a cow have?

Image Credit: Skeleton on cow’s teeth by James St. John (CC BY 2.0) from Flickr

Since cows do not possess any front teeth on their upper jawline, it may make us wonder about their count.

To be precise, in total, cows have 32 teeth. Eight incisors, twelve premolars, and twelve molars make up their tooth types.

Are cows born with teeth?

Image Credit: Close-up photograph of a calf’s head by Basile Morin (CC BY-SA 4.0) from Wikimedia

Since the dental anatomy of cows is different, it is interesting to explore if they get their teeth before they are born or afterward?

So calves are born with milk teeth, which are their temporary teeth. At birth, a calf usually has two or more temporary incisors protruding from its gums. The milk teeth tend to be shard on edge, covered with thin enamel. 

Milk teeth in calves, which they are born with, only last for around 18 months. After this time, infants receive their first set of permanent teeth, termed pincers, which are lower incisors. 

At what age do calves get teeth?

We must remember that calves are born with teeth, although they are temporary milk teeth. So it is not until these temporary teeth start to loosen up that you can spot the permanent incisors.

That being said, it is not until the age of 19 or 20 months that calves start getting their permanent teeth. The process of wearing off of milk teeth and eruption of permanent teeth continues to around age five. 

Follow the table below to get an idea of at what age cows start to get their permanent teeth.

Incisor teeth: 

Teeth type(Usual) Age of eruption 
Central incisors18 to 24 months
Middle incisors24 to 30 months
Lateral incisors32 to 36 months
Corner incisors42 to 48 months
Incisor teeths

Molar and premolar teeth:

Teeth type(Usual) Age of eruption 
The first two permanent molars12 to 18 months
The furthest back molar24 to 30 months
The second pre-molar 18 to 30 months
The first pre-molar24 to 30 months
The third pre-molar30-36 months
Molar and premolar teeth

What are calf teeth?

Unlike humans, baby cows are born with teeth. However, they are not permanent ones.

The calf teeth are the temporary ones, also called the baby teeth or the milk teeth. These teeth are eventually replaced by permanent teeth, which we can see in more mature cows.

Cows acquire 20 temporary teeth, sometimes known as milk teeth, which eventually fall out and are replaced by 32 permanent or adult teeth. 

How do you age a cow by its teeth?

Aging is a crucial part of cattle’s lives. When birthdates aren’t available, cow dentition is sometimes used as an age indicator.

You can estimate a cow’s age by examining its teeth. However, cattle specialists or veterinarians use the incisor teeth at the bottom front of the jaw to measure the animal’s age. In this process, the focus is given on:

  • the number of teeth
  • the type of teeth
  • the overall appearance of the teeth

The method mentioned above is the most frequent way of measuring approximate age in live cattle. The following table will be helpful to correlate a cows’ age with the number of teeth.

AgeNo. of teeth
2 years or lessOnly baby milk teeth
2 years2 permanent incisors
3 years4 permanent incisors
4 years6 permanent incisors
5 years8 permanent incisors
Older than 6 yearsAll teeth are present
Approx. 12 yearsSome teeth may show signs of decay 
Age a cow by its teeth

Here, we should note that it is not always possible to estimate the age of a cow by its teeth. We say so because tooth decay and wear and tear depend on factors other than just age, including the general state of health, genetics, maturity, breed, etc. 

Do cows’ teeth continue to grow?

Some animals keep on growing their teeth until tooth buds deplete. Such animals are called the polyphyodont.

In this context, we would like to mention that ruminants’ teeth, including cows’, never stop growing. This is because cows are hypsodonts, which means their cheek teeth keep on erupting throughout their lives. Therefore, cows’ teeth keep on growing to satisfy their need to chew and graze constantly. 

Do cows need dental care?

Healthy teeth are as essential for us as they are for our farm animals. Being herbivorous, cows have some added advantages over other omnivorous and carnivorous animals.

We say so because cows mainly don’t require regular dental care like other animals, including horses. Also, cows’ diets involve green plants, grass, etc., and they constantly graze, so they are also unlikely to get gun problems like gingivitis.

Still, if you feel your bovine needs some specific dental attention, you can call a vet. The doctor would come by and do some “floating,” which involves filing or clipping to remove the animal’s pointed and uneven teeth edges. 

Nonetheless, in some cases, cows may experience bacterial infection in their mouth, lumpy jaw, wooden tongue, and calf diphtheria. These issues may require a vet’s urgent attention.  

Do highland cows have teeth?

Highland cows look fantastic with their long and woolly coat and impressive look. 

Like other farm cows, highland cows also have teeth adapted in the right way to encourage their grazing activity.

Do highland cows have top teeth?

Highland cows are nothing but a different breed of bovines that are meant to survive in the harsh climate of the Scottish Highlands.

Although they may look different, they have essential bovine characteristics, including dental anatomy. These cows also have a dental pad in place of frontal teeth on their upper jawline. It is the upper dental pad and lower teeth that help the highland cows to chew food properly. 

Conclusion

Who knew cows’ dental anatomy could be so interesting?

We are sure that you got to learn some interesting facts about cows’ teeth, their pattern, and reasons for their unique anatomy. 

So, we can wrap up by summarizing that cows have teeth on both their jawlines, although they lack upper front teeth or incisors. And you can find teeth even in a newborn calf- their milk teeth. Only after all their temporary or milk teeth are replaced entirely can you find permanent teeth in cows. 

Atrayee

I am Atrayee, I have extreme passion for the Animal Kingdom and I have written a large number of articles for animal behaviors. I am an Animal Lover by nature and own two Cats.
Exploring new things through learning and unlearning is something that intrigues me a lot. I spend my free time with my husband and two cats. I must say I get to learn a lot of wise things from them! You can catch me on LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/atrayee-samaddar-06886567/

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