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Shark Teeth: Everything You Need to Know

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Sharks are one of the ocean's most capable and notorious predators, often described as bloodthirsty killers. One of the scariest sights on Earth may be the sight of a shark opening its mouth ready to attack. They have devastating raw power and an incredible bite, one of the highest in the world. But with that power come rows of formidable teeth, perfectly designed to rip and tear apart their prey. How many teeth does a shark have? Join us as we discover everything you need to know about shark teeth.

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Shark teeth can be needle-shaped, triangular, or even flat!

© Tomas Kotouc/Shutterstock.com

Types of Shark Teeth

There are four different types of shark teeth, and a shark's tooth type depends largely on their diet.

Dense, flat teeth – These are mainly found in sharks that live on the bottom of the sea, such as nurse sharks. That's because bottom-dwelling sharks often feed on crabs, turtles, and crustaceans. Therefore, flat teeth are especially useful for opening shells.

Needle teeth – so named because they are long and sharp. These teeth are especially useful for catching small to medium fish, squid and even small sharks. The long, sharp teeth make it easier to bite narrow-bodied fish. Sharks with these teeth include the bull shark, which is known for its ability to survive in freshwater habitats such as rivers and lakes.

Pointed lower teeth and triangular upper teeth – this type is best suited for biting larger prey – such as seals, dolphins and whales. This combination of teeth has serrated edges and is used to chop prey into smaller pieces that are easier to swallow. Sharks with these teeth include the notorious great white and oceanic whitetip – both of which are responsible for many deadly attacks on humans.

Non-functional teeth – The last type are non-functional teeth and are found in filter-feeding sharks – basking sharks, whale sharks and megamouth sharks. These sharks feed primarily on plankton and other small organisms. Filter feeders do not use teeth at all, hence the term "non-functional teeth". Instead, these sharks swim toward their prey with their mouths wide open. Small creatures are sucked in, water is filtered out, and their prey is swallowed. Despite their large size, these sharks are considered harmless because they do not bite.

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What do bull sharks eat - face close-up
Bull sharks have long, needle-like teeth

© Havoc/Shutterstock.com

How many teeth does a shark have?

Sharks are able to constantly replace their teeth, cementing their status as one of the best predators around. How many teeth does a shark have? On average, sharks have between 50 and 300 teeth at a time. Sharks don't have just one row of teeth like most animals do, they actually have many. When the old tooth falls out, the new tooth behind it takes its place – like a conveyor belt that keeps sending teeth!

Shark teeth are made of very strong dentin, but they don't have roots to hold them in place. Instead, their teeth are located in the gums. The absence of roots means they can easily fall off, especially when they get worn and torn by sharks as they bite and grab their prey.

Sharks' teeth line up along their jaw line and run from the outside of the jaw inwards. On average, sharks have 15 rows and 5 series of teeth, so a maximum of 300 teeth at a time. However, some sharks have more teeth. Bull sharks can have seven series and as many as fifty rows of teeth – so about 350 teeth at a time, which makes them even more terrifying.

Most sharks lose a few teeth per week, but the actual rate depends on what they eat. So, since shark teeth are constantly regenerating — how many teeth does a shark have in a lifetime? Once the old tooth falls out, a new tooth usually pops up to replace it within a day. Incredibly, some sharks can live up to 30 years, and they can lose more than 20,000 teeth in their lifetime.

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bite force

Besides teeth, one of the most important factors for sharks is the force of their bite. One of the main reasons they have such a strong bite is their jaws. Most animals have their upper jaw fixed to the skull, but sharks do not. Instead, their upper jaws sit below the skull and can be separated when attacking prey. This means they can use their entire mouth to grab prey. Most sharks bite down on the lower teeth first, then press the upper jaw down.

Because sharks have a uniquely adaptable jaw, their bite is very, very powerful. It is widely believed that the great white shark has the second strongest bite in the world, after the saltwater crocodile. However, there has been some recent controversy over which shark has the strongest bite — great white or bull shark.

While great whites are generally larger than bulls, so the bite force will always be greater, a pound-for-pound bull may have the advantage. A direct comparison finds that a 9-foot bull shark weighs 478 pounds in a single bite, while an 8-foot great white weighs 360 pounds in a single bite. This proves that the pound-for-pound bull shark has a stronger bite. This is thought to be because bull sharks often forage in murky waters, which means that when they bite their prey, they really don't want to lose it. Therefore, once they bite the bullet, they will never let go soon, unlike the great white shark that bites the prey.

great white shark showing teeth
Great white sharks can lose over 20,000 teeth in their lifetime

© Tomas Kotouc/Shutterstock.com

Ancient Shark Tooth

The average length of a modern shark tooth is between 0.5 and 2 inches, depending on the species. For example, the teeth of a great white shark are about 2 inches long. However, there is an ancient shark whose strength can surpass all sharks today, and this beast is the megalodon . The megalodon is the largest shark that ever lived, reaching a length of 60 to 70 feet. To match its astronomical length, they also have some very large teeth. Megalodon literally means "big tooth" and the largest Megalodon tooth ever found was 7 inches long! The teeth of the megalodon are similar to those of the great white – triangular in shape with serrated edges. This suggests that they ate whales, sharks, fish and other marine mammals.

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Although the megalodon's teeth are similar to those of the great white — the lower teeth are pointed and the upper teeth are triangular in shape — the rest of the teeth are quite different. Some ancient shark teeth that represent shark evolution have been discovered. Known as transition teeth, they demonstrate the way one type of shark evolves into another. The most famous example of transitional teeth shows how the now-extinct giant mako shark evolved into the great white shark we see today. These transitional teeth are wider and flatter like a giant mako shark. However, they also show some evidence of serrations starting to appear on the great white shark's teeth. These transitional teeth are from a "transitional species" called Carcharodon hubbelli .

Check out the largest shark tooth ever found.


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about the author

For many years, I have been writing professionally, with an emphasis on animals and wildlife. I love spending time outdoors, and when I'm not writing I'll be found on a farm surrounded by horses, dogs, sheep and pigs.

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