Sheep are one of the most popular livestock choices, as they are easy to feed, easy to herd, and are one of the least aggressive animals on the planet. They are also very useful, as their thick wool is essential for millions of fabrics manufactured, sold, and used around the globe. These wooly mammals are family-loving and will stay close to their siblings and their mother even in a crowded flock.
Sheep are related to goats, cattle, and antelopes, all of which have hooves that are split into two toes. Most sheep have horns that are made of keratin, the same substance that makes up human fingernails. Domestic sheep have been specifically bred to be wooly, while wild species of sheep have way more polished figures and more spiraled horns.
Sheep are non-aggressive animals, making them a perfect farm buddy. Even though sheep do not bite or hurt people, that doesn’t mean they do not have strong teeth.
Do Sheep Have Top Teeth?
Sheep have only three types of teeth in their mouths. They have incisors or front teeth at their lower jaw for cutting and biting food, premolars, and molars, collectively called ‘cheek teeth’, for chewing and grinding their favorite food, grass.
You might have seen a sheep eating and chewing grass up close or in videos, and one thing that you may easily notice is their missing upper jaw teeth. Apart from their missing canines, sheep also do not have teeth in the front portion of their jaws. Instead, they have a flat plate or a tough, toothless dental pad on top of the bottom incisors that aid in grabbing and chewing grass. These incisors and dental pad work together as serrated scissors that are helpful in successfully and effectively grabbing grass and pushing them towards the cheek teeth to chew.
How Many Teeth Do Sheep Have?
Sheep have a total of 32 permanent teeth. They have eight incisors located only at their bottom jaw. These front teeth are also called their cutting or biting teeth. After the incisors are 12 premolars and 12 molars sitting from the middle up to the rear portion of the mouth. The typical dental formula for sheep is: incisors 0/4, premolars 3/3, and molars 3/3.
Like humans and dogs, sheep are diphyodont, which means they are born with an incomplete temporary set of teeth that shed and are replaced with new, permanent ones as the right age comes.
Within two to six weeks, three temporary premolars emerge in a sheep’s mouth. The first two permanent incisors at the center of a sheep’s bottom jaw usually appear at approximately 15 months of age, while the other pairs of permanent front teeth emerge in sequence with an interval of 6 months each.
In the lower jaw, the first permanent molar emerges at three months, while the permanent molar in the upper jaw erupts at five months old. The second and third permanent molars, as well as the permanent premolars, appear between the ages of 18 and 24 months.
What Are Sheep Teeth Used For?
Sheep have four incisors in each side of the bottom jaw used along with the dental pad to cut grass. The cheek teeth, composed of three premolars and three molars in each side of the mouth, are used to grind grass and other food. Sheep also use their tongue to wrap, tear, and chew on fibrous vegetable materials.
As you may notice, sheep, goats, cows, and other ruminants often chew without front teeth. This is because they don’t have any. Yet, their dental pad at the upper front portion of their mouths is actually designed to help them uproot grass from the ground and tear them with their lower incisors.
Sheep are ruminants, and the unique thing about ruminants is their specialized stomach that helps them ferment plant-based food in order to get and filter necessary nutrients from plant materials better than other herbivores. Sheep spend a lot of their time chewing because they regurgitate their digested food, rechew and then swallow again. The digested food that they regurgitate is called cud. This process is part of their special digestion to ferment cellulose using their multi-chambered stomach.
Can Sheep Teeth Tell Their Age?
Sheep teeth can be used to estimate their age, particularly those under the age of four. The temporary lower front incisors are small and sharp for lambs under a year old. As they reach a year and a half, the incisors at the middle fall out and are replaced by permanent ones. As they clock two years, one more incisor will erupt in each side of the bottom jaw. Three and four-year-old sheep should typically have six permanent incisors, and after another year, all eight incisors should have been replaced with permanent ones.
When sheep have completed their set of permanent teeth, their age can then be determined by how much their front teeth have worn off.
Common Sheep Teeth Problems
As sheep age, the amount of food and continuous chewing of cud and grass can make their teeth wear down, spread, and fall out. This hinders the sheep’s ability to eat properly, so dental care is important for domestic sheep in order to ensure they are acquiring the right amount of food.
Incisor loss or broken mouth is a common, yet major problem in sheep’s dental structure. This often results in difficulty biting and cutting off grass, which eventually leads to starvation and malnutrition.
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