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Cow Teeth: Do cows have upper teeth?

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Cows have been domesticated for over 10,000 years. They are even-toed herbivores of the family Bovidae. We use them for everything from meat to milk to leather. They are bred all over the world and can survive in different habitats. Some even weigh up to 3,000 pounds and can live for decades.

With such a hefty weight, one wonders; what do cow teeth look like? Here, we answer that question and more. We'll take a closer look at a calf's teeth and how they change as they grow into adults. Then, we'll learn how to tell a cow's age by its teeth, and whether a cow bites.

Baby Teeth: The Calf's First Teeth

Calves are born in pairs after nine months of gestation. The first teeth they grow are the lower front teeth. All calves have 20 teeth; eight incisors and twelve premolars. As they grow older, their permanent teeth start to erupt and replace the baby teeth one pair at a time.

Cows don't get their first permanent teeth until they are about two years old. At that time, the first adult teeth to erupt are the lower central incisors, sometimes called pincers. Then the first middle incisor (the next pair on either side of the middle incisor) at three years of age. At four years of age, they erupt their third set of adult teeth, the second middle incisors.

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At about five years of age, calves develop their last set of incisors, the horn incisors. During this time, they also develop adult cheek teeth, although these are further back in the mouth and harder to see.

Do cows have upper teeth?

Cow Teeth Diagram Their Teeth
Cows do not have upper incisors; instead, they have a hard tooth pad for chewing

© Rainer Lesniewski/Shutterstock.com

Cows do have upper teeth, but they only grow incisors in the lower jaw. Let's dig into why this is the case.

The reason for this is simple; cows are ruminants (like sheep and goats), and ruminants grow a hard, fleshy mound called a tooth pad in place of the upper front tooth. When they chew hard foods like grass and weeds, they rub the food between their lower incisors and the pads. This creates a very efficient shredding mechanism. Cows, therefore, have no front teeth; at least on the top.

However, while cows do not have incisors in their upper jaws (see photo above), they do have upper premolars and molars. When cows "ruminate"—push the grass back into their mouths for a second digestion—these upper teeth are used to further break down the grass into smaller pieces.

Do cows bite?

Does the cow have upper teeth = cow mouth
Cows have a total of 32 teeth.

©Vladimir Konstantinov/Shutterstock.com

In theory, all animals with mouths and teeth can bite. But is a cow biting you the same as a dog biting you?

The simple answer is – no. Cows will bite you, but because they don't have upper teeth in the front of their mouths, the best they can do is get you injured or bitten.

A cow's main defenses come from its size and hooves. Bulls also have horns and will chase threats. But don't worry, if a cow (or even a bull) bites you, chances are they won't do much damage.

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Adult Teeth: How Many Teeth Do Cows Have?

An adult cow has a total of 32 teeth; eight incisors, twelve premolars and twelve molars. They use their teeth almost exclusively to eat the plants on which they live. This is especially important for dairy cows, which have four-part stomachs that require a lot of chewing.

When a cow eats, it first swallows and partially digests the food in one of its stomach cavities. It then regurgitates this food, chews it again, and swallows it again. This process can happen many times; the cow's digestive power is crucial as it breaks food down into smaller and smaller pieces.

Let's take a closer look at the teeth that give cows such complex digestive systems.

front teeth

Cows have only eight front teeth, all on the lower jaw. They do not have true canines, although some call their corner incisors canines. The incisors are important for drawing grass and other plants into the mouth and initially chopping them up. Together with a stiff upper lip and a flexible tongue, the cow's incisors draw food into the mouth and begin to break it down.


Do cows have upper teeth - molars
Cows have molars for grinding grass.

© wasanajai/Shutterstock.com

After the incisors, the cow's mouth has a large, toothless gap called the interdental space. Premolars are located at the back of the mouth and are much stronger than incisors. They have high crowns that extend laterally from the tongue to the cheeks, giving the teeth the appearance of mountains and valleys when viewed from the side. Along with molars, premolars are essential for grinding the tough food that cows depend on to survive.

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The last tooth in a cow's mouth is a molar. This is the largest and strongest tooth a cow has, and it does most of the grinding work. Like premolars, molars have high crowns designed for chewing difficult-to-eat plants. Cows chew with a distinctive side-to-side motion, and when they do, they're actually dragging food across their cheek teeth. As they chew, tall crowns efficiently chop and grind food in preparation for first, second or third digestion.

Determining the age of cows from their teeth

brown cow lying in the field
The older the cow, the more worn and discolored the teeth

© Flying Broccoli/Shutterstock.com

Because a cow's front teeth always erupt in the same order, cow owners and veterinarians can use them to accurately determine a cow's age. Adult teeth are much larger and stronger than deciduous teeth, and the two are easy to tell apart.

To start; if a cow has no adult teeth, it is less than two years old. If it has only one pair of adult teeth in the center of its mouth, it is between two and three years old. Two pairs of adult incisors (four in total) means the cow is at least three years old. They erupt their third set of adult front teeth by the age of four, and by the age of five they have no deciduous teeth at all.

Cow teeth don't last long. If they live to be ten years old, chances are that their front teeth are severely worn out, and they may even be missing teeth. This can make eating difficult or even impossible.


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Does the cow have upper teeth = cow mouth

© Vladimir Konstantinov/Shutterstock.com

about the author

Brandi Allred

Brandi is a professional writer by day and a fiction writer by night. Her nonfiction work focuses on animals, nature, and conservation. She has degrees in English and Anthropology and writes horror, science fiction and fantasy stories in her spare time.

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