Academic journal article The Science Teacher

A Huge Tooth

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

A Huge Tooth

Article excerpt

Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) researcher Martin Nweeia has answered a marine science question that has eluded the scientific community for hundreds of years: Why does the narwhal, or "unicorn," whale have a 2.4 m tooth emerging from its head (see picture), and what is its function?

The narwhal has a tooth, or tusk, which emerges from the left side of the upper jaw and is an evolutionary mystery that defies many of the known principles of mammalian teeth. The tooth's unique spiral, the degree of its asymmetry to the left side, and its odd distribution among most males and some females are all unique expressions of teeth in mammals. The narwhal is usually 4 m to 4.6 m in length and weighs between 998 to 1,588 kg. Its natural habitat is the Atlantic portion of the Arctic Ocean.

Nweeia, a clinical instructor in restorative dentistry and biomaterials sciences at HSDM, has discovered that the narwhal's tooth has hydrodynamic sensor capabilities. Ten million tiny nerve connections tunnel their way from the central nerve of the narwhal tusk to its outer surface. …

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