Dental pathologies in lamniform and carcharhiniform sharks

Published on
11 May 2022

Dental pathologies in lamniform and carcharhiniform sharks with comments on the classification and homology of double tooth pathologies in vertebrates

Harrison S. Miller​, Haviv M. Avrahami, Lindsay E. Zanno


Double tooth pathologies are important indicators of trauma, disease, diet, and feeding biomechanics, and are widely documented in mammals. However, diagnosis of double tooth pathologies in extinct non-mammalian vertebrates is complicated by several compounding factors including: a lack of shared terminology reflecting shared etiology, inconsistencies in definitions and key features within and outside of mammals (e.g., gemination, fusion, twinning, concrescence); differences in tooth morphology, heterodonty, regeneration, and implantation between mammals and non-mammalian vertebrates; and the unmet need for diagnostic criteria that can be applied to isolated teeth, which are common in the fossil record. Here we report on double tooth pathologies in the lamniform and carcharhiniform Cenozoic sharks Otodus megalodon (NCSM 33639) and Carcharhinus leucas (NCSM 33640, 33641). All three teeth bear a singular bifid crown with mirrored halves and abnormal internal microstructure—a single, bifurcating pulp cavity in C. leucas and a more than tripling of vessels in O. megalodon (from two to seven main ascending canals). We identify these abnormalities as likely examples of gemination due to their symmetry, which rules out fusion of tooth buds in one tooth file in different developmental stages in polyphyodont taxa; however, we note that incomplete forms of mesiodistal tooth fusion can be morphologically indistinguishable from gemination, and thus fusion cannot be rejected. We further compile and recategorize, when possible, the diversity of tooth pathologies in sharks. The identification of double tooth pathologies in O. megalodon and C. leucas has paleobiological implications. Such pathologies in sharks are largely hypothesized to stem from trauma to developing tooth buds. Carcharhinus leucas is known to feed on prey documented to cause feeding-related oral traumas (e.g., rays, sawfish, spiny fish, and sea urchins). However, O. megalodon, is considered to have largely fed on marine mammals, and perhaps turtles and/or fish, raising the possibility that the dietary diversity of this species is, as of yet, underappreciated. The genetic underpinnings of tooth morphogenesis and regeneration is highly conserved throughout vertebrate evolution, suggesting a homologous framework can be established. However, more research is needed to link developmental, paleobiological, and/or paleoenvironmental factors to gemination/fusion in polyphyodont taxa. We argue that the definitions and diagnostic criteria for dental pathologies in vertebrates require standardization in order to advance macroevolutionary studies of feeding trauma in deep time.

PeerJ 10:e12775, DOI: 10.7717/peerj.12775


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