Orca Teeth: All About Toothaches In Captive Killer Whales

Supriya Jain
Feb 29, 2024 By Supriya Jain
Originally Published on Nov 18, 2021
Edited by Sarah Nyamekye
Fact-checked by Amatullah Gulbargawala
Friendly Killer Whale underwater
Age: 3-18
Read time: 4.8 Min

If you have visited a marine park, you would have certainly noticed the killer whales there.

During visiting all the marine parks, you might have been interested to observe the teeth of these marine mammals held captive in the tank. Missing teeth and tooth damage is on the rise today with orca killer whales, having a direct impact on their health.

Tooth wear is seen among most killer whales that feed on sharks as the shark's scales are very rough and almost like sandpaper, causing tooth wear. Captive killer whales often chew on concrete and the steel in their tanks which not only causes the animal pain but it also causes extreme damage to their teeth. The cruelty of drilling holes into these orca whales' teeth has been found on the record of examination and studies undertaken by researchers.

After reading about the different teeth problems that orcas face, also read about frog tongue and frog teeth.

How many teeth do orcas have?

Killer whales are animals with sharp, intimidating, and scary teeth. An orca killer whale’s rostrum is just below its melon. And the orca teeth are inside the rostrum tissue in their mouth. Orca killer whales have nearly 40-56 teeth interlocking with each other. Their teeth are said to measure about 3 in (7.5 cm) in length.

The teeth in orca killer whales are in the shape of a cone. And these sharp teeth are mainly used for ripping out and tearing out the prey they catch for food. The orca killer whales do not use their sharp front teeth to chew their food, instead, they use their teeth to tear it up into smaller chunks and then eat it. The arrangement of the orca killer whale teeth is that about 10-14 teeth are on each side of the jaws. They have a total of 40-56 teeth that are used for capturing and getting a grasp of their prey. Then they tear the food up into smaller edible chunks with their front teeth as well as the middle teeth. Both the two types of killer whales; the transient killer whales and the resident killer whale have teeth in their mouth.

How big are orca teeth?

Orcas' teeth can grow up to 3-4 in (7.5-10 cm) in length. A total of 40-56 teeth in the upper and lower jaw of this adult fish like a killer whale are mainly used to catch and hold onto their prey fish or animals and to keep them from escaping.

The first four rows of about 10-12 teeth of the orcas are the sharpest of all the teeth of the orca killer whale. The orcas are one of the smartest and the most socially intelligent animals in the world. The captive orcas in the SeaWorld parks are known to respond to humans. They jump up to the surfaces of their tank to show their responses to the calls. The health check-ups for captive orcas are done in the SeaWorld parks. In captivity, most of the Orcas have damaged, worn, or drilled teeth. Studies suggest that a lot of this poor dental health is due to the whales biting on hard concrete surfaces and the steel tanks. Chewing on concrete walls causes moderate damage to their teeth and their overall health. Killer whales in the wild compared to captive killer whales will generally have better dental health due to this reason. Mostly these killer whales are spotted in the eastern North Pacific ocean but can be found in all oceans. The width of the orcas’ tooth during one health check-up by researchers measured 1 in (2.5 cm) diameter.

Killer Whale Orcinus orca diving

How sharp are orca teeth?

Even if orcas’ teeth are not designed for the purpose of chewing, they have pretty sharp teeth in order to tear through their food and cut them into smaller chunks. With populations on the decline, we rarely see these SeaWorld killer whales in the wild.

The meat-eating predators of the sea, the killer whales, have quite large and conical teeth. A large percent of the ancient killer whale species had sharp and tough coned teeth. While today, these orca killer whale teeth are getting less and less sharp. Some major issues that might affect the killer whales’ teeth are the eating of herring, and shark scales. As the denticles of the shark's scales are covered in hard enamel, this can cause moderate to extreme damage including worn-down teeth, holes, and other dental problems.

Orca Teeth Vs Shark Teeth

If we deal with orcas’ teeth vs shark teeth, the sharpest teeth between these would be the sharks. Orca killer whales in captivity can be friendly to their trainers. But how do they behave in their natural environment?

We all are aware of the damage that a shark can do. Well, what about an orca killer whale? Can it do as much damage and be as dangerous as a shark?

The tooth of a shark is sharper and scarier than a killer whale’s tooth as we have seen in pictures. Among the sharks, the great white shark holds the position of the largest species among the mighty sharks. Sharks hold their position at the top of the list of the most dangerous fish in the ocean world. The sharks have 300+ serrated line teeth in their powerful jawline. The length of the great white sharks' teeth is considered to be up to 4 in (10 cm). So, the vote goes to the sharks for flawless hunters with bigger teeth than the orca killer whales.

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

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Written by Supriya Jain

Bachelor of Commerce, Master of Business Administration specializing in Marketing

Supriya Jain picture

Supriya JainBachelor of Commerce, Master of Business Administration specializing in Marketing

As a skilled member of the Kidadl team, Shruti brings extensive experience and expertise in professional content writing. With a Bachelor's degree in Commerce from Punjab University and an MBA in Business Administration from IMT Nagpur, Shruti has worked in diverse roles such as sales intern, content writer, executive trainee, and business development consultant. Her exceptional writing skills cover a wide range of areas, including SOP, SEO, B2B/B2C, and academic content.

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