Actually, as it turns out,

maybe dinosaurs did need dentists, or some of them, anyway. A recent discovery of the world’s oldest dental abscess shows that tooth decay has long been a problem for land animals, and it explains why we have to live with the risk of dental decay instead of constantly replacing our teeth like sharks or crocodiles.

Almost as Old as Life on Land

The oldest dental abscess ever discovered was found in the jaw of an early land-dwelling reptile, Labidosaurus hamatus, a 275-million-year-old reptile. L. hamatus was a small animal, reaching about three feet in length. It was contemporary with dimetrodon and edaphosaurus, mammal-like reptiles with large sails on their backs.

What makes L. hamatus special was that it had adapted not only to living on land, but also to eating tough land plants, and this was the cause of its periodontal infection.

Tooth Decay Is a Side Effect of Having Good Teeth

What separates L. hamatus from its contemporaries and its ancestors is the quality of its teeth. As one of the first land-dwelling animals, this reptile was closely related to its amphibian ancestors. Many early lizards (some of which survive to this day) have teeth like amphibians that just sit on top of the jawbone, not inside their own sockets, like our teeth. These animals don’t tend to chew their food–they just gulped it down whole.

L. hamatus had better teeth that had true sockets that anchored them more firmly in the jawbone. This allowed the reptile to use its teeth to chew up tough foods like plant stalks. The tradeoff is that L. hamatus had only one set of teeth to last its entire lifetime. When one was broken, it remained anchored in the jawbone, allowing bacteria to infect the interior of the tooth, what nowadays would be treated with a root canal.

If You Enjoy Food, Toothaches Are a Necessary Evil

So, the next time you’re enjoying a delicious meal in which every bite releases wonderful flavors, think of L. hamatus, a pioneer in chewing, and think of the lessons of his life. If you’re going to chew, you have to take care of your teeth. Make sure you brush and floss every day and see your dentist regularly.

To learn more about proper oral hygiene and tooth maintenance, please contact Rice Dentistry in Irvine.