New research shows that the largest dinosaurs, the sauropods, had a complex system for constantly replacing teeth. In fact, the research showed they may have had several sets of teeth ready to replace losses, may have grown replacement teeth in less than a month, and could go through two sets of teeth in that time.
Sauropods are long-necked dinosaurs, what most people grew up calling “Brontosaurus,” although it turns out “Brontosaurus” was actually an Apatosaurus, but it was thought to be a different dinosaur because the first Apatosaurus skeleton discovered had been put together with the wrong head, from a Camarasaurus.
Researching Dinosaur Teeth
Much is known about dinosaur teeth in some ways. Their structure and likely function has long been explored, but what wasn’t known was how these teeth grew in the dinosaurs’ jaws. That’s because finding this information basically means destroying fossils that can be rare and are impossible to replace.
However, a team of paleontologists led by Dr. Michael D. D’Emic found several dinosaur jaw fossils that were damaged enough that they could be taken apart to analyze the teeth development (see short summary or full article). To do this, he broke up the fossilized jaws to remove not only the visible teeth, but the back-ups that were in place within the jaw. Turns out there were several backups available. One dinosaur jaw studied, a Camarasaurus, had three replacement teeth in the socket, while another, Diplodocus, had five replacement teeth waiting.
Fast Growing Replacements
Researchers not only discovered that dinosaurs had numerous replacement teeth waiting in the jaws, they also found out these teeth grew remarkably fast. By looking at the cross-sections of the teeth, they were able to find the deposition lines in the dinosaur’s dentin. Dentin is the material found in your teeth below the enamel, and the deposition lines showed how many days it took for the teeth to grow.
Turns out they grew remarkably quickly. In the jaws they studied, they found out that Camarasaurus could grow a new tooth in about two months and Diplodocus could grow a new tooth in about a month. They extrapolated their data using a computer model to different types of sauropods and estimated that a newer one, called Nigersaurus, could probably grow a new teeth in as little as two weeks and may have had as many as nine replacement teeth waiting.
Your Teeth Are Your Life
In the wild, many animals’ lifespan is determined by their teeth. Elephants, for example, have six sets of molars, and die when their last set of molars wears out and, unable to eat, they starve to death.
Humans have only two sets of teeth, one of which is intended to last us most of our lives, which means we have to treat them with extreme care. Although tooth