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Aging Elk From Their Canine Teeth

Bull elk along the Gallatin River

Elk by river.
Elk Teeth

Unlike other members of the deer family, elk have a tooth on each side of their front upper jaw. These special teeth are located similarly to the upper fangs or canine teeth of dogs and are properly called "canine" teeth.

Other names include: Ivory teeth, eye, teeth, tusks, whistlers, elk teeth, bugler teeth, wapiti teeth, forbs

Information Bulletin from October 1967, originally written by Kenneth R Greer

Hunters often leave an elk's head in the hills when they must pack out their meat. However, most elk hunters remove the canine teeth and frequently show them to personnel at a checking station. It has been found that this method is quite reliable, and from the canine teeth, an age may be assigned to the particular animal. These ages of animals harvested are important for interpreting the age structure of males and females in a herd and the survival, growth and longevity of various age classes.

The Fish and Game Department requires several types of information to have knowledge about various big game herds. This information is required by biologists to formulate annual management programs to regulate a herd. Under certain circumstances, some information must be obtained by alternate methods. Such is the case with these canine teeth! While the lower jaw is preferred, for examination, to reveal the age of an elk, it is frequently not available.

Overview

Deciduous upper canine teeth appear in elk calves about a month after birth. These teeth will be replaced later by larger, permanent teeth. These small temporary teeth are almost identical in size and shape in both male and female calves. They are quite small compared to permanent teeth——about 1/20 of the size of adult male and 1\10 the size of adult female permanent canines. The small deciduous teeth, retained for about a year, are replaced in June or July when the crowns of permanent canine teeth appear. Nearly a year is required for exposure of approximately half of the crown. Root extremities are the last part to develop and the tooth is completely formed between the second and third years.

The formation, development, and wear of these canine teeth are slightly more advanced in the females than in males. It is quite easy to recognize the characteristic size and shape between the male and female permanent canine teeth. Although these upper canine teeth do not have an opposing tooth to provide a wearing surface, they do reveal a great amount of wear. The surface wear of this lone tooth is due to contact with the tongue, as well as contact with the specialized muscle in the lower lip (distinguished by a circular patch of black hair).

Within a year after appearing through the gums, wear is noticeable on the canine tooth and continues throughout the animal's life. The complete crown is exposed in most elk 7 years-old or older. In elk over 15 years-old the root component often forms the wearing surface. Since development is in progress during the first and second year, the teeth are quite easy to distinguish. Many factors influence the variations found in individuals and canine teeth. Therefore, age designation after 3 years of age may vary by a year or two.

Male "Bull" Elk Teeth

Male 1 ½ Years Old

Elk teeth—1.5 years old.

Lingual view of tooth

Elk teeth—1.5 years old.

Sectioned view of tooth

  • Crown— About 1/4 of the crown has been exposed and the surface is chalky white. Enamel is polished by wear but not enough to expose dentine layers.
  • Root — One-fourth to ¾ complete, ends are paper thin, apex completely open.
  • Pulp Cavity— Occupies 70 to 95 percent of the tooth.
  • DLCL— The disto-linguo-cervical-lobe (DLCL) is usually present but occasionally this area and adjacent root has not been formed.

Male 2 ½ Years Old

Elk teeth—2.5 years old.

Lingual view of tooth

Elk teeth—2.5 years old.

Sectioned view of tooth

  • Crown— About 1/2 of crown is exposed through the gum. Exposed crown is buff colored and wear has penetrated enamel layer. Central dentine rings are less than 5 mm long.
  • Root— External root is nearly compl.ete1y formed and ends are firm. Apex is open and the canal can be probed 10-20 mm with a knifepoint.
  • Pulp Cavity— Occupies 30 to 70 percent of the tooth.
  • DLCL— The base of gum band is from 3 to 10 mm away from base of lobe.

Male 3 ½ Years Old

Elk teeth—3.5 years old.

Lingual view of tooth

Elk teeth—3.5 years old.

Sectioned view of tooth

  • Crown— More than 1/2 of crown is exposed. Prominent dentine-enamel rings on wearing surfaces are frequently more than half the width of crown.
  • Root— Anterior and posterior ends of root are complete but between these points an incomplete development reveals a concave shape.
  • Pulp Cavity— Mostly chamber and occupies 5 to 10 percent of tooth.
  • DLCL— Base of gum band about 1 to 4 mm above base of lobe.

Male 4 ½ —5 ½ Years Old

Elk teeth—4.5 years old.

Lingual view of tooth

  • Crown— ¼ to 1/3 of crown is exposed.
  • Root— None exposed.
  • Crown— Root Relationship. —Crown is about half the overall length of tooth.
  • DLCL— Base of gum band about 1 to 4 mm above base of lobe.

Male 6 ½ —7 ½ Years Old

Elk teeth—6.5 years old.

Lingual view of tooth

  • Crown— Rear portion of entire crown is usually exposed.
  • Root— Occasionally, some root exposed.
  • Crown— Root Relationship. —Crown is less than half the overall length of tooth.
  • DLCL— Base of gum band near or on base of lobe.

Male 8 ½ Years and Older

Elk teeth—8.5 years old.

Lingual view of tooth

Elk teeth—8.5 years old.

Lingual view of tooth

  • Crown— All of crown exposed. Many crowns are almost completely worn away and wearing surfaces are only about half as wide, from inside to outside, as found in younger teeth.
  • Root— Some of root usually exposed.
  • Crown— Root Relationship. —Crown is a quarter or less of the overall length of tooth.
  • DLCL— Base of gum band is just below or lower than the base of lobe. Because of the differences in the rate of growth and wear of canines between males and females ——descriptions for each are necessary. In the following descriptions of females it will be noticed that the sequences are similar to the males. However, the older females have two characteristics of "grooving" and "bulbing" that were not obvious in males of similar ages.

Female "Cow" Elk Teeth

Female 1 ½ Years Old

Female elk teeth—1.5 years old.

Lingual view of tooth

Female elk teeth—1.5 years old.

Sectioned view of tooth

  • Crown— One-fourth to ½ of the crown is exposed. About 50 percent of all teeth had a prominently pointed crown. Only 10 percent of the teeth had wearing surfaces worn through the enamel layer.
  • Root— Three-fourths to completely formed but ends are very thin. .
  • Pulp Cavity— Occupies 75 to 90 percent of the tooth.
  • DLCL— Formed in all teeth.

Female 2 ½ Years Old

Female elk teeth—2.5 years old.

Lingual view of tooth

Female elk teeth—2.5 years old.

Sectioned view of tooth

  • Crown— Nearly 1/2 of the crown is exposed. Dentine-enamel 4 to 7 mm in length.
  • Root— External tooth completely developed and ends are thick and firm. Root slightly more than half the length of the tooth. Root apex open in 50 percent of all teeth and canal may be probed 1 to 4 mm with knifepoint.
  • Pulp Cavity— Occupies 30 to 60 percent of the tooth.
  • DLCL— The base of gum band is 3 to 5 mm away from base of lobe.

Female 3 ½ Years Old

Female elk teeth—3.5 years old.

Lingual view of tooth

Female elk teeth—3.5 years old.

Sectioned view of tooth

  • Crown— At least 4 of the frown is erupted. Dentine-enamel concentric rings extend from half to fully across wearing surface of the crown.
  • Root— Bottoms of the root are completely developed and form a straight or outward curved line between front and back edges of the tooth. Apex completely open in 20 percent of the specimens.
  • Pulp Cavity— Mostly chamber, occupies 5 to 10 percent of the tooth.
  • DLCL— Base of gum band from 2 to 4 mm from base of lobe.

Female 4 ½ —6 ½ Years Old

Female elk teeth—4.5 years old.

Lingual view of tooth

Female elk teeth—4.5 years old.

Root Apex

Female elk teeth—4.5 years old.

Root Bulbing

  • Crown— One-fourth to 1/3 of crown is not exposed. Grooving appeared in the back edge of the crown-root area on about 11 percent of the 5 1/2-year-old and 31 percent of the 61/2-year—old canines.
  • Roots— Roots not usually exposed. About 90 percent of the root apexes were completely hardened and pin holes were present in the others. The root apex may have a rounded shape and sides may have a bulbing appearance.
  • Crown-Root Relationship— Crown is about half the length of tooth
  • Gum Band & DLCL— (4 ½ to 5 ½ years). About 2 to 3 mm apart.
  • Root Apex— Profile begins to change from a straight to rounded shape due to resorption of front and back corners.
  • Root Bulbing— Cementum deposits on the sides of root at base form a bulb shape.

Female 7 ½ —9½ Years Old

Female elk teeth—7.5 years old.

Lingual view of tooth

Female elk teeth—7.5 years old.

Root Apex

Female elk teeth—7.5 years old.

Root Bulbing

  • Crown— Usually, all of the crown is exposed. Grooving occurred on the back edge of the crown or crown—root area in 44, 53 and 67 percent of the 7 ½, 8 1/2, and 9 ½ -year-old canines, respectively.
  • Root— Occasionally, some of the root has been exposed. The root apex is usually rounded and the sides are bulbed.
  • Cown-Root Relationship— The crown is less than half of the overall tooth length and root bases appear to be slightly resorbed.
  • Gum Band & DLCL— (61/2-71/2-years). Base of gum band closely associated with base of the lobe.
  • Root Apex— Most apexes have rounded shape.
  • Root Bulbing— Most roots have bulbed appearance.

Female 10 Years and Older

Female elk teeth—10 years old.

Lingual view of tooth

Female elk teeth—10 years old.

Lingual view of tooth

  • Crown— All of the crown is exposed, Grooving was present on posterior edges of crowns or crown—root areas in about 70 percent of the 10 to 15-year-old animals. The low incidence of this groove, on1y 7 percent in 16-years-and older canines is because the general area where the groove appears had been completely worn away.
  • Root— Some of the root is usually exposed. Apex is completely closed.
  • Crown-Root relationship— The crown is a quarter or less of the overall length of tooth. Root lengths generally appear to have smaller sizes than younger teeth.
  • Gum Band & DLCL— (8 years and older). Base of gum band usually just below or lower than the lobe.

Acknowledgments:

This webpage information came from an FWP Information Bulletin (1967 October), originally written by Kenneth R Greer.

Greer, K. R. and H. W. Yeager. 1967. Sex and age indications from upper —canine teeth of elk (Wapiti). JOWL of Wildlife Management. 3113): 408-417.

Notes:

Standard terminology for biological measurements is in the metric system (25.4 millimeters is equivalent to 1 inch).

Sketches are of the inside or tongue side with the anterior or front edge to the left and posterior or rear edge to the right. Sectioned views are through the center of tooth.

The cemento-enamel junction (CEJ) is a point of distinction between the anatomical root (CEMENTUM) and crown (ENAMEL). In upper canine teeth of elk, this particular area is not readily distinguished.

Charts:

An extensive collection of lower jaws and upper canine teeth was available during studies of the Northern Yellowstone elk herd. Lower jaws provided the primary basis of age for over 1,000 male and 1,500 female canine teeth, which were examined at the Wildlife Lab in Bozeman.

Click on the charts for a larger view.

Crown-root proportions.

Crown-root proportions of permanent upper canine teeth in various age groups and sexes of elk.

Age structure—Northern Yellowstone.

Age structure of elk herd in Northern Yellowstone (1967)

Age structure—Gallatin.

Age structure of elk herd in Gallatin (1967).