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Outdoors just for kids 5-16-13

It’s no fun losing your baby teeth, or your adult teeth. Sometimes you have to have the dentist pull them. Sometimes they just fall out after you keep pushing them back and forth with your tongue. No matter how they come out, losing a tooth can hurt, and there’s always blood involved. It’s pretty weird having that empty space in your mouth until a new tooth fills the hole.

We humans only get two sets of teeth in our lifetimes – our baby teeth, also called milk teeth, and our adult ones. You may get three sets of teeth — if you are old, have all of your teeth pulled and get dentures, or false teeth, made.

Compare this to American alligators, which may replace each tooth 50 times in a lifetime. And alligators have a lot of teeth – 74 to 80 compared with an adult human who has 32 teeth, counting wisdom teeth. For an alligator, as their teeth are worn down they are automatically replaced. Humans can have individual teeth replaced by a fake one through surgery, but it’s expensive and takes a lot of visits to the dentist office.

Scientists are studying how alligators make new teeth with the hope that someday they may find a way to help humans grow new teeth if they lose one, rather than getting a fake tooth implanted. That may make you think of a human having a big sharp alligator tooth sticking out of their mouth, which would be cool, but not very practical because humans and alligators have very different teeth. An alligator’s teeth are meant to cut and shred, so they are pointy. A human only has four really pointy teeth – called canine teeth. The other front teeth are sharp for biting, so you can take a chunk out of an apple, while the back teeth are flatter on top to help break up the food.

One way to ensure you don’t have to worry about replacing your teeth when you lose your baby teeth is to take good care of them by brushing and flossing daily. Alligators don’t have to worry about that.

— Brett French, Gazette Outdoors editor

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Montana Untamed Editor

Montana Untamed editor for the Billings Gazette.