What Are A Whales Teeth Made Of?

When it comes to the materials that make up a whales teeth the outer layer of the toothed whales teeth composed of cementum cells (a specially calcified substance) which overlay dentine cells.

Assuming the cementum is removed from the whales teeth you would be able to see the layer of enamel underneath the cementum.

The teeth of humans on the other hand a human’s teeth are composed mostly of enamel which is easily visible from the outside of the gum line.

While teeth are present among certain types of whales it is important to note that not all whale species have teeth.

There are actually two suborders of whales which are referred to as the toothed whale and baleen whale suborders.

Toothed whale features

Toothed whales as the name suggest are born with teeth, which some species use to grab onto and tear apart the flesh off their prey.

A few species such as the narwhal are born with only two teeth, one of which protrudes from the whales mouth in the form of a tusk.

Narwhals use their teeth as a form of self defense or during mating periods to show their dominance.

These marine mammals however do not appear to use their teeth for biting or chewing their prey.

Another example of a toothed whale that does not appear to use its teeth for consuming prey is the sperm whale.

Although the sperm whale has teeth in its lower jaw there are a number of sperm whales that either lost their teeth or never fully developed them that have been observed successfully hunting their prey and maintaining their diets despite the absence of teeth.

Their ability to maintain their diet regardless of whether or not they possess teeth shows that their teeth may not play a role in helping them hunt food.

Some researchers believe that the teeth these marine mammals possess is used mainly to show aggression and dominance towards other males during mating periods in order to scare off competition and maximize their reproductive opportunities.

In addition to whales all species of dolphin and porpoise fall into the toothed whale suborder and they also possess teeth along with other similar characteristics.

In fact whales, dolphins and porpoises are all marine mammals belong to the same cetacean family due to their evolutionary past, genetics and shared physiological features.

Baleen whale features

While teeth are present in all of the toothed whale species baleen whales do not possess any teeth at all; instead they are born with baleen plates that have bristles attached to them.

The baleen bristles are typically long, thin and packed together to help the whale filter prey from the water.

Due to the fact that baleen whales are unable to bit are chew their food they use a method known as filter feeding to capture their prey.

The baleen whales bristles act like a filter by allowing water to pass through the spaces of the bristles, but remain close enough to prevent prey from being able to get out of the tightly packed bristles once they make contact with them.

In order to capture their prey the baleen whale will look for a large swarm or group of prey and swim towards its prey with its mouth open until it is able to capture enough prey in its mouth.

Depending on the baleen whale it will either continually skim the water or take a big gulp of a large group of prey and push the excess water out of its mouth using its tongue.

Once the water is expelled from the mouth the whale will then swallow the remaining prey that was trapped in its bristles.

Note: There are no species of dolphin or porpoise that exist within the baleen whale suborder; baleen whales are comprised solely of whales that possess baleen plates.


When it comes to the number of teeth that a whale has the amount of teeth they are born with varies largely depending on the whales species.

The killer whale for example (actually a dolphin) can have as many as 56 teeth in its mouth while the narwhal whale has only one tusk (tooth) which protrudes from its upper jaw.

Some species such as the sperm whale only has teeth on its lower jaw which fit into groves in the upper jaw and some whales may lose their teeth due to combat, unhealthy living or deformities.

Depending on the species some whales are able to survive without the use of their teeth and will only use their teeth to show aggression towards other whales.

These marine mammals swallow their food whole without biting or chewing their prey.

When it comes to other cetaceans such as the dolphin species some dolphins are known to have over 200 individual teeth.

As with whales they may or may not use their teeth to consume food and/or show aggression towards other dolphins, especially during mating periods.

When it comes to shape their teeth can also vary dramatically from one species to the next.

Most cetaceans are born with either canonical shaped teeth or spade shaped teeth while the narwhal is born with tusks.

As stated earlier the materials that make up the outer layer of the toothed whales teeth is composed of cementum cells which overlay dentine cells and cover up the enamel that is hidden below the cementum.


In conclusion, there are around 90 known species of cetacean (cetaceans include whales, dolphins and porpoises) which are divided into two suborders known as the toothed whale and baleen whale suborders.

Toothed whales are born with teeth made of cementum cells that overlay dentine cells that cover up the whales enamel layer.

The amount of teeth that a whale has can vary from 2 to over 250 depending on the species.

In addition to the whale species dolphins and porpoises also possess teeth.

Those that don’t have teeth are born with baleen that allows them to filter their prey through the water much like a fishing net.

Once they’ve captured a mouthful of prey they then push the excess water out of their mouth and swallow their food whole.

Unlike the toothed whale suborder the baleen whale species is comprised exclusively of whales.