Triceratops Teeth Were the Most Complex Ever

Jun 17, 2015, by Dr. Becky Coats

Jurassic World roared into theaters over the weekend, focusing extensively on the teeth of dinosaurs. Of course, there’s the dentally challenged Indominus rex, who sports probably the second-worst dino dentition ever seen on screen (top honors go to Vastatosaurus rex from King Kong (2005), since Foetodon, whose name means literally “rotten teeth” isn’t a dinosaur). And then there’s the constant refrain in the movie “we need more teeth.” But it isn’t just movie dinosaurs showing off their teeth these days, as paleontologists just made an exciting discovery about the teeth of Triceratops, the three-horned dinosaur that is in every kid’s top five favorites.

The Most Complex Teeth Ever

Triceratops TeethIt’s commonly been assumed that dinosaur teeth were more similar to those of reptiles than they are to mammals. After all, dinosaurs’ most likely surviving relatives (birds) have pretty much all lost their teeth. And dinosaur teeth weren’t generally built to last. Most dinosaurs shed teeth, like modern crocodiles. If your teeth are disposable, it makes sense that you wouldn’t invest a lot of resources into making them complex. That kind of wasted energy can be used better elsewhere, like in making the complex bony horns and frills that Triceratops likely used as defensive weaponry (though many of its relatives probably used mostly for display).

But when researchers looked at Triceratops teeth, they found that the teeth had five layers, not the two layers that are commonly found in reptile teeth. This is more than the three layers we have in our teeth (enamel, dentin, and pulp), and the four layers of horse and bison. But even more striking is how the structure and wear of these teeth made them super efficient for chewing.

Tooth Wear Leads to Efficient Chewing

Among the layers of the Triceratops’ teeth was one known as the vasodentine. This is a special kind of dentin that was both hard and porous, accommodating blood vessels. But what was really good about this layer of the tooth was that it could wear away easily. It creates a scalloped valley on the tooth that researchers compared to the design of some sophisticated kitchen knives or the “blood groove” on swords. This made the teeth lighter and more efficient, with less grinding contact with the food. Instead, the teeth efficiently sliced the vegetable matter, cutting it up quickly with very little effort.

Researchers speculate that this tooth structure allowed Triceratops to eat plants that other dinosaurs couldn’t, which may account for the wide variety of ceratopsians that we see at the end of the Cretaceous, with a range from the arctic to Australia, including Texas native Agujaceratops.

Are Your Teeth Wearing Down?

Although dinosaur teeth benefit from wear, human teeth aren’t designed to wear down excessively, and if your teeth are wearing too fast, TMJ may be the problem. We can evaluate your bite to determine if your bite is inefficient or damaging. We can then treat TMJ and restore damaged teeth with porcelain veneers or dental crowns.

Please call (817) 481-6888 for an appointment with a Dallas TMJ dentist at Grapevine Dental Care today.