Dental Health for Aging Elephants

An elephant goes through six sets of molars in a lifetime. As one set wears down from grinding and chewing plant material, the next set pushes through.

After an elephant's last set of teeth wears down, they lose the ability to chew and digest food. Therefore, one of the leading causes of death in mature elephants is the loss of teeth.

To ensure dental health, elephants at The Sanctuary are trained to lift their trunks and open their mouths so that Care Staff can inspect their teeth. The Vet team takes routine photographs of each elephant’s mouth monthly using an Endoscope and Caregivers work with the elephants regularly to maintain the behaviors required for this process using a Dewalt plumber's camera. An elephant gets rewarded for participating in their dental care—and they receive higher value rewards—like a favorite kind of produce—for higher-level activities.

Fast Facts about Elephants' Teeth

  • Tusks are an elephants’ incisor teeth and are used for defense, digging for food and water, and carrying and lifting.

  • In addition to their tusks, elephants also have four molars inside their mouths.

  • A single molar can weigh up to five pounds.

Model of an Asian elephant molar

Model of an African elephant molar

Help Us Build The Elephant Health Care Center

To best serve our resident elephants and those to come, The Sanctuary is preparing to break ground on a modern Elephant Health Care Center. This centrally located Center will expand in-house diagnostics and provide opportunities to share what we are learning about geriatric elephant care, including dental health, with others.

The total cost for The Elephant Healthcare Center is $1,075,000, which includes the Veterinary Services offices and lab, a two-stall barn with a solar array, and two acres of habitat fencing with a training wall.

The Board of The Elephant Sanctuary has set aside the use of $620,000 from operational reserves to help fund this Center. We are asking our generous supporters to help us raise the remaining $455,000 through this campaign.


An anonymous donor has generously offered $150,000 in matching funds to help us reach our goal of $455,000 by September 2018.

We hope you will partner with us to create this modern facility specifically designed to meet the needs of aging captive elephants.

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