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Old elephant eating after cleaned grass from dust, Amboseli National Park, Kenya
Elephants usually have 26 teeth: the incisors, known as the tusks, 12 deciduous premolars, and 12 molars. Unlike most mammals, which grow baby teeth and then replace them with a single permanent set of adult teeth, elephants have cycles of tooth rotation throughout their lives. The chewing teeth are replaced six times in a typical elephant's lifetime. Teeth are not replaced by new ones emerging from the jaws vertically as in most mammals. Instead, new teeth grow in at the back of the mouth and move forward to push out the old ones. The first chewing tooth on each side of the jaw falls out when the elephant is two to three years old. The second set of chewing teeth falls out when the elephant is four to six years old. The third set is lost at 9–15 years of age, and set four lasts until 18–28 years of age. The fifth set of teeth lasts until the elephant is in its early 40s. The sixth (and usually final) set must last the elephant the rest of its life. Old elephants try to clean their food from dust in order to protect their last teeth.
The African elephant is facing the greatest crisis in decades. Reports of mass elephant killings in the media vividly illustrate the situation across many African elephant range States. Read "Elephants in the Dust" (see link below)!