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Snake Tooth: Everything You Need to Know

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For some people, snakes are a nightmare. For others, they are beloved pets or fascinating subjects of study. They belong to the suborder Snakes, which are related to lizards and other reptiles. Like lizards, they are exothermic, meaning they cannot keep their bodies warm—they rely on the sun's heat to do so. Snakes are obligate carnivores, which means they only eat animal foods such as insects, animals, and eggs. Some are highly venomous, others are viciously huggable, but no matter what kind of snake you see – it's likely to have teeth.

Here, we'll take a comprehensive look at snake teeth, what they're called, and what makes them special. We'll cover the different types of snake teeth, including their famous fangs, and how venomous species deliver their venom. We'll then discuss in more detail how snakes replace their teeth, and whether they can actually loosen their jaws.

what's the snake tooth called

Snakes can be found almost everywhere on earth. With some notable exceptions, these include Antarctica, Ireland, Greenland, Iceland, Hawaii and New Zealand. They can grow anywhere from a few inches long for a Barbadian wire snake to nearly thirty feet long for a reticulated python.

Regardless of the length of a snake, they all have teeth (at least a few). Generally, snake teeth are called "fangs," but not all snakes actually have the famous fangs that we think of when we think of venom and attacking snakes. Snakes basically have two kinds of teeth; fangs and smaller functional non-cuspids.

What's so special about snake teeth?

cicadas cause more snakes
Rattlesnakes have fangs sticking out of their mouths like switchblades

©Suzanna Ruby/Shutterstock.com

Snakes evolved from toothed lizards; they lost their legs but kept their teeth. There are more than 3,000 species of snakes on Earth, each with its own unique dentition. Some (such as pythons) have as many as 200 teeth, while others (such as king cobras) have fewer than 100.

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All snakes have teeth, but not all snakes have "fangs" — those famous fangs that are very prominent in the mouths of species such as venomous snakes. Here, we'll discuss four different types of dentition in snakes.

Snake Tooth - Snake Skull
Some snakes – such as pythons – can have more than 200 teeth.

©Mirko Graul/Shutterstock.com

Long tooth

All snakes have toothless teeth. These are all the teeth in the snake's mouth that are not considered fangs. They are long and thin, conical and sharp. They face backwards and are arranged in one row on the lower jaw and two rows on the upper jaw. For many species, these teeth are invisible, hidden in the gums. Only toothless snakes have no fangs and therefore no venom delivery system. Species without fangs include rat snakes, bull snakes, king snakes and pythons.

deciduous teeth

Snakes with fangs are probably the most famous of all venomous snakes. Like rattlesnakes, rattlesnakes have very large fangs at the front of their mouths. These fangs can be retracted into the jaw, and then spring open like a switchblade to stab the prey. The fangs are hollow, through which the venom flows like a straw, directly into the victim's flesh. Serpentine snakes typically attack by striking their target, injecting venom, then backing off and waiting for the target to succumb.

original word tooth

Proteroglyphous snakes include mambas, cobras, and coral snakes. Like serpentine snakes, these snakes have fangs at the front of their mouths. However, their fangs are not hinged and cannot stick out of the mouth like rattlesnake fangs. On average, they're also only one-third the size of solenoglyphous fangs.

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Posterior teeth

Not all snakes have fangs in front of their mouths. The rear snake's fangs are actually located near the back of the mouth. These species (including hognose snakes) attack by attacking a target, then holding on until all of their venom has been released. Since the fangs are at the back of the mouth, this approach makes sense – it gives them maximum time to poison their prey.

Do all snakes have teeth?

biggest snake
Snakes have most of their teeth hidden in the gums

© Kurit afshen/Shutterstock.com

All snakes have teeth, but the number and location vary by snake species. Traits such as tooth position and number depend largely on the snake's diet. Snakes of the family Pareidae have more teeth on the right side of the mouth than on the left; this is because these snakes mostly feed on snails and always swallow them with the shell on the left side of the mouth.

Other snakes, which specialize in eating reptile eggs, have fewer teeth and are more likely to swallow eggs. They also grew an extra tooth in the back of the jaw, wider and more blade-like than the others. Scientists think this tooth helps them eat eggs.

Polydonts

Unlike humans, snakes don't have to worry too much about losing their teeth. Broken or lost teeth are common, and luckily — snakes have a way of dealing with them.

Like sharks and piranhas, snakes are polydental. This means they grow and use multiple sets of teeth throughout their lives. When a tooth falls out, it is immediately replaced by a new, very sharp replacement.

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Can a snake open its mouth?

Contrary to popular myth, snakes cannot loosen their jaws. If you've ever watched a snake eat something, it's easy to see why people think that way. However, the truth is that snakes have very flexible jaws that are only loosely attached to their skulls. Also, the junction between the two halves of the jaw is nothing more than a flexible ligament. All this flexibility allows snakes to eat food much larger than their own heads, no matter how many teeth they may have.

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about the author

Brandi Allred


Brandi is a professional writer by day and a fiction writer by night. Her nonfiction work focuses on animals, nature, and conservation. She has degrees in English and Anthropology and writes horror, science fiction and fantasy stories in her spare time.

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