While shark teeth have long adorned the necklaces of ocean-inclined Homo sapiens, the true purpose of these aggressive dentures is all about getting food. However, being that there are over 400 species of sharks, one shark’s idea of a good meal might be very different from that of another species. Different shark species can have dramatically different teeth that reflect their dramatically different diets. The horn shark, a local bottom dweller that feasts upon bivalves, urchins, and crustaceans, has small flat teeth with which it crushes the hard-shells and exoskeletons of its prey. Meanwhile, the blue shark, a pelagic species that prefers squid and fish, captures its prey by piercing it with knife-like teeth. The list goes on and on: tiger sharks have serrated teeth for ripping the flesh of seals and other large prey, while whale sharks have reduced teeth that they don’t even use, as they eat plankton that they filter through their gills.
Though shark teeth vary depending on the species, they all have one thing in common: they get lost… a lot. Shark teeth aren’t rooted into gums like human teeth, and so are much more prone to falling out when prey puts up a fight. For a shark though, loosing a teeth is no big deal. Unlike humans, which only go through two sets of teeth in a lifetime, sharks have no such limits and are continuously replacing their teeth. A single shark can loose thousands of teeth in its lifetime! Clearly, the shark tooth fairy is a far busier individual than the being that looks under our pillows.
This continuous replacement of teeth is only possible because sharks, behind their teeth, have more teeth, and behind those teeth, are more teeth, and behind those teeth, are even more teeth, and behind those teeth… you get the idea. These backup teeth are arranged in multiple rows inside of a sharks mouth and work like a vending machine to push new teeth forward whenever the need arises. Depending on the species, a shark can have 5 to 15 to even 50 rows of teeth in each jaw. That’s quite the mouthful!
Sharks are some of the ocean’s most successful predators, thanks in large part to their phenomenal teeth. The next time you’re around some shark teeth, whether sporting jewelry, sifting through a beach, or snorkeling with a living shark, remember that there’s much more behind each tooth than meets the eye.