by Victor Perez
Tooth deformities are common in sharks, but come in many different varieties. These deformities are often referred to as pathologies; however, that is a somewhat inaccurate description. A pathologic tooth implies that the deformity is a consequence of a disease, even though many deformities are unrelated to disease. For example, feeding damage is often a cause of tooth deformation. Bones or other elements of a prey item can become lodged within the jaw of a shark, resulting in replicate deformities as the shark continues to grow and shed new teeth.
Gordon Hubbell, an amateur collector with one of the largest private collections of sharks in the world, has recognized a number of tooth pathologies in Carcharocles megalodon (Figure 1). Types like blistered enamel may be a true pathology (Figure 2), but many of the other deformities are more likely associated with feeding damage or disproportionate growth rates within the jaw. Alternatively, the blistered enamel could actually be partially digested teeth. It’s not too far-fetched to think a shark could swallow its own tooth inadvertently, resulting in partial dissolution of the enamel from stomach acid.
In my own experience collecting and visiting museum collections, the wavy cutting edge appears to be the most common tooth deformity in Megalodon (Figure 3). When a shark tooth is developing, the enamel forms first and is somewhat malleable. Wavy cutting edges may be a result of a vertical compression of the tooth at this stage of development, prior to being infilled by dentine. Similar wavy cutting edges have also been observed in the modern Great White, however determining the actual cause for this deformity remains speculative. In reality, this is the case for most deformities/pathologies in the fossil record. Although we may never be certain as to the exact cause(s), we can certainly make educated guesses supported by an understanding of anatomy and behavior in modern analogs.
To see more images of tooth deformities in Megalodon check out the Megalodon Forum on myFOSSIL, and if you’ve collected deformed teeth share them with the community. Also, for a more in depth review of tooth pathologies in Megalodon check out Chapter 10 of Megalodon: Hunting the Hunter by Mark Renz.