Sea Turtle Teeth: Everything You Need To Know

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Published: November 14, 2022
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Let’s face it; turtles are among the cutest sea creatures today. Yes, sea lions may look fluffier, and dolphins may seem friendlier. But have you observed sea turtles slowly walking across the shore? In the water, witnessing one swiftly swimming is magic in itself. They may not be as colorful as butterflies or fierce as dragons, but they sure look straight out of a kid’s fairy tale.

Despite certain turtles’ ability to hunt smaller creatures, most are essentially herbivores. This animal’s anatomy changes depending on what it eats and consumes, and this encompasses the entire digestive system, which starts in the mouth. Turtles are reptiles, and when it comes to this group of animals, labeling them as toothed or not is way more complicated than mammals. Some reptiles have teeth, and some do not. So, do sea turtles have teeth? Let’s find out!

Do Sea Turtles Have Teeth?

Sea turtle swimming on reef

Sea turtles do not have teeth.

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The quick answer is no; sea turtles don’t have teeth. As a matter of fact, no turtle species is known to have teeth. So how do they eat, then? Think of them as birdsthey have beaks instead of teeth that they utilize to bite and chew their food.

All turtles, including sea, freshwater, and even tortoises, lack teeth. These animals bite, tear, and chew with their powerful beaks rather than teeth. Their strong, peculiarly shaped beaks reveal a lot about the food they consume. In contrast to humans and other predators, sea turtles are not bound to consume their meals the way other predators do. Turtles don’t need to attack like many predators who use their canines to kill their victims and consume their meat.

Nevertheless, don’t assume that a sea turtle’s mouth is soft just because it lacks teeth. The keratin border that lines the turtles’ jaws is extremely strong and often serrated. These edges can have sharp points and ridges that resemble jagged edges, giving them the appearance of a row of teeth. They are not dental structures like actual teeth, though.

Do Sea Turtle Beaks Keep Growing?

Sea turtles feed on various aquatic plants, fish, crustaceans, and others, but they eat these without teeth. Like human fingernails, these razor-sharp beaks continue to grow throughout the turtle’s life. In the wild, beaks constantly deteriorate at the same rate as they grow, maintaining their appropriate size. If given mostly soft foods, sea turtles might not have enough opportunities to bite and wear down their beaks.

Sea turtles don’t chew their food as much as birds do; they chew and then gulp. Some turtles, like alligator snapping turtles, can shatter a broom in half and amputate a human finger with just one bite.

Do Baby Sea Turtles Have Teeth?

Sea turtle hatchlings on the sand

Newborn turtles are born with an “egg tooth.”


Baby sea turtles get the closest to having teeth, but they aren’t made of the same substance most animal teeth are made of.

Turtles lay eggs, as with all reptiles. These eggs are hard to split open because of their leather-like tenacity. As a result, newborn turtles are born with an “egg tooth” that functions similarly to an egg tooth in a bird. They use this tiny, pointed projection that extends from the front of their beaks to pierce the shell. Within the following few days after the hatchlings are released from the shell, this “tooth” falls off.

Sea Turtles With Pointed Beaks

As juveniles, sea turtles are typically carnivorous and have pointed beaks, though not as sharp as a carnivorous freshwater turtle like the alligator snapping turtle. Sea turtles with pointed beaks include the loggerhead, green, and olive ridley sea turtles. Their jaws are stuffed with so many spikes, so they have a rather ominous appearance.

Sea turtles come in seven distinct species, but some of them, particularly the leatherback sea turtle, have frightening mouths. Leatherback sea turtles consume the majority of the world’s jellyfish. Think about what might happen to a sea turtle if it consumes a jellyfish since we know how painful it can be to eat. That’s why they have those terrifying spikes to defend against the jellyfish’s sting.

Several sea turtle species, including the green sea turtle and the hawksbill turtle, also have a serrated tomium (the beak’s sharp cutting edge).

How Do Turtles Eat Without Teeth?

Minecraft Animal: Sea Turtle

Sea turtles use their beaks to bite off pieces of food to consume.

©Willyam Bradberry/

Sea turtles utilize their beaks, which act as their teeth, to bite off pieces of food to consume. They don’t need to chew their food very much; instead, they only bite off small amounts that they can easily swallow.

Each species of turtle has a different diet. Some can be carnivorous or omnivorous, while others are solely herbivorous. Sometimes, despite lacking teeth, they will chew their food to help with digestion using the ridges of their keratinous jaws. 

Do Turtles Bite?

Yes is the clear-cut response. In a captive setting, it frequently occurs accidentally, typically when handfeeding or when they “test bite” something to check if it is edible because they are hungry. Turtle bites can be painful, however, how bad they hurt depends on the size and species of the turtle involved.

Turtles may bite when they feel threatened, and different animals have different levels of defense. Depending on the particular species, some males can develop seasonal territorial behavior and may bite more frequently. Some species can live in groups in captivity. However, some might not always get along, which could result in them biting each other.

Fossils of Turtle Teeth

Although turtles do not have teeth, fossilized turtle teeth have been documented. A creature called Odontochelys, also known as the “toothed turtle,” lived about 200 million years ago. This early predecessor of the modern turtle had teeth in both its upper and lower jaw, which were found in its petrified bones. However, turtles today lack teeth but have robust beaks that allow carnivorous turtles to break the shells of their crustacean prey, such as crabs, sea urchins, and clams.

Up Next:

Boxer Dog Teeth: Everything You’ve Ever Wanted To Know

Turtle Predators: What Eats Turtles?

Sea Turtle vs Land Turtle: What Are The Differences?

Are Turtles Reptiles or Amphibians?

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Isabelle Kuehn/

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