Herbivore Teeth: Complete Dental Anatomy And Facts

Joan Agie
Oct 25, 2023 By Joan Agie
Originally Published on Nov 17, 2021
A panda eats a large bamboo stalk

Herbivores are animals that survive on a plant-based diet; this choice of food is not based on personal preference but rather depends upon the natural anatomy of an animal.

Did you know that only 32% of all animals are herbivores? Read till the end of this post to understand the complete dental anatomy of the lower jaw and upper jaw in herbivorous animals.

Herbivores have naturally unique teeth that differ in arrangement and location and even digestive systems from carnivores. This difference is a result of years of evolution and change.

Herbivores are also known as primary eaters, which means that they feed on producers. The term producers refer to plants because they are the only living organisms capable of making their own food. Herbivores have teeth explicitly made for eating and processing plants, unlike carnivores whose teeth are designed to tear through the flesh of other animals.

Herbivores are situated on the second level of any food chain as carnivores consume them. Let us take a closer look at the herbivore teeth diagram and dental anatomy. After reading about how the teeth of herbivorous animals help grind and eat their diet and food in life, you can also read about duck teeth and hamster teeth.

How many teeth do herbivores have?

The type and number of sharp teeth can slightly differ from mammal to mammal depending upon their choice of vegetation and throughout the actions during evolution. Some herbivorous animals feed on all types of edible plant material and fodder, for example, goats.

At the same time, some herbivores have adapted only to eat particular plant material, for instance, koalas and pandas.

The basic dental anatomy of all herbivores is the same. The sharp teeth of herbivores are designed for biting and grinding plants to be finely processed to absorb the tiny number of nutrients that the plants contain.

Most herbivores worldwide have four types of teeth, whose shape is slightly differing from one animal species to another, adapted to how they eat their diet. These include incisors, canine teeth, premolars, and molars which total up to 32.

The Dental Formula For Herbivores

The dental formula refers to the total number of teeth that an animal possesses according to its respective arrangement in the mouth cavity. The dental formula also depends upon the species of the animal.

The dental formula of herbivores, like cattle that feed on fodder, is

2 x ( 033 / 433 ) = 32

Most herbivores' arrangement and type of teeth are pretty much the same, except for the canine teeth. This is because herbivores have little to no use for canines to eat their preferred foods, unlike carnivores that require canines to tear and chisel through a wide range of flesh of their prey.

In some herbivores, the canines are entirely absent, while their size is significantly smaller in others. Some animals like walrus and elephants have only ornamental use of their canines.

Types Of Teeth In Herbivores

As mentioned above, herbivores have four types of teeth, and each type serves a different function. Herbivores need strong flat teeth to grind up the plants properly to extract the nutrients from them. The four types of teeth are:


The four teeth at the front of the mouth on both jaws are incisors. These front teeth are used for biting the grass and plants. Herbivores have strong incisors used to cut grass and other vegetation.

All animals have lower incisors while the upper incisors are absent, and there is a simple gap in some of the herbivores. The outer two incisors are lateral incisors, while the inner ones are known as central incisors. This tooth type is beneficial for tearing food.


Canines are situated next to the incisors in the jaw and generally cut and tear through flesh and meat. Canines are more prevalent in carnivores as they need to hunt their prey, unlike herbivores due to different shapes.

This is why most herbivores either lack canines or the size of these teeth is significantly smaller. Some animals, for example, elephants, rhinos, and walrus have evolved so that their canines have become purely ornamental.


Premolars are situated after the canines or next to the incisors depending upon the species of the animal. The canines are comparatively flatter and blunt than the canines but sharper than the molars.

These teeth serve to aid the other adjacent teeth and perform both functions of tearing and chewing. The number of premolars depends upon the age of the herbivore. Adults tend to have double the number of premolars than young ones.


Molars are the largest teeth in the dental arrangement of animals. They have large flat surfaces that enable chewing and are also known as great molars. Most of the chewing and grinding is done with the help of molars; therefore, it would be safe to say that molars are the most important teeth in the arrangement.

When it comes to carnassial teeth, they are not present in herbivores and are exclusive to carnivores.

Herbivore Teeth Vs. Carnivore Teeth

As we have established in the article above, the teeth arrangement and design of carnivores and herbivores are pretty different, depending on their dietary differences. These dietary differences make for some very different teeth.

Herbivore teeth are generally required for cutting, clipping, and grinding the vegetation and plants into small pieces, and therefore are more flat-surfaced and larger. In contrast, carnivores have to hunt their prey and tear through it; for that purpose, they require longer, sharper, pointier teeth that would enable them to tear through the meat easily.

Unlike herbivore teeth, carnivores do not need flat teeth for grinding because the meat is much more easily digestible than plants.

Most herbivores lack canines; while canines are the most important teeth in carnivores, the premolars and molars of the two types of animals also differ due to their different functions for both the animals. The molars and premolars of herbivorous animals are broader and flatter to enable chewing and grinding of the food before consumption.

In contrast, the molars and premolars of carnivores are pointer and have uneven edges that help break up the meat into tiny pieces.

Are humans herbivores?

Understanding humans is quite difficult because human beings are complex creatures. Humans are the only animals capable of cooking their food, which might lead you to wonder if humans are carnivores or herbivores.

Humans are capable of eating cooked meat and plants, which makes them omnivorous, but this was not initially the case. Some research indicates that humans are anatomically herbivores and are still not capable of consuming raw meats.

However, there has been an ongoing debate about the natural dietary orientation of humans throughout history. Some people have claimed that humans have always been carnivores, while others argue that humans were naturally vegetarian. Most experts agree that humans have herbivorous teeth that are most suited for eating seeds.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for herbivore teeth, then why not take a look at beaver teeth or anaconda teeth.

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Written by Joan Agie

Bachelor of Science specializing in Human Anatomy

Joan Agie picture

Joan AgieBachelor of Science specializing in Human Anatomy

With 3+ years of research and content writing experience across several niches, especially on education, technology, and business topics. Joan holds a Bachelor’s degree in Human Anatomy from the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Nigeria, and has worked as a researcher and writer for organizations across Nigeria, the US, the UK, and Germany. Joan enjoys meditation, watching movies, and learning new languages in her free time.

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