National Museum of Dentistry opens

Nov. 16, 2006
Free admission and family activities will mark the opening of "The Narwhal: A Whale of a Tooth" exhibition Dec. 9-10.

BALTIMORE, Maryland--Make a Narwhal holiday ornament at the National Museum of Dentistry on Dec. 9-10.

Free admission and family activities will mark the opening of The Narwhal: A Whale of a Tooth. The exhibition features a 13- foot, lifesize model of a male Narwhal with its more than five foot tusk that grows through the upper jaw and lip.

Visitors will hear stories about the "Unicorn of the Sea" and will learn interesting facts about the purpose of this unusual tooth that has mystified scientists for decades. The exhibition will remain at the museum through August 2007.

The exhibition is based on the research of Dr. Martin Nweeia, principal investigator of Narwhal Tusk Research and a Research Associate in the Marine Mammal Program at the Smithsonian Institution.

The most startling revelation produced by this research is that the Narwhal tusk's outer surface is covered with ten million tiny tubules tunneling their way to the tusk's central nerve. Nweeia summarized the research team's amazement by saying "Such a finding is startling and indeed surprised all of us who discovered it. Why would a tusk break the rules of normal development by exposing millions of sensory pathways that connect its nervous system to the frigid arctic environment?"

The National Museum of Dentistry exhibition's Narwhal model (Monodon monocerous or "one tooth"), documentary photographs, interviews and educational facts bring to life this curious creature.

Small for a whale, adults reach lengths of 13 to 15 feet and weigh between 2,200 and 3,500 pounds. The Narwhal is the only animal that grows an essentially straight tusk, which can achieve a length of nine feet. The animal's home range includes the Atlantic portion of the Artic Ocean and the Greenland Sea.

The exhibition is supported by a grant from Sunstar Americas.

The National Museum of Dentistry, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is located at 31 South Greene Street in Baltimore, Md. Hours are Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday 1 to 4 p.m. Opening weekend admission is free.