Shark Teeth: Everything You Need To Know

Written by Hannah Ward
Updated: July 20, 2022
Image Credit Havoc/Shutterstock.com
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Sharks are some of the most capable and notorious predators in the sea and are often described as being blood-thirsty killers.  Possibly one of the most frightening sights on earth is the sight of a shark with it’s mouth open ready to attack.  They have devastating raw power and an incredible bite force which is among the highest in the word.  But to go with that strength is row upon row of terrifying teeth, perfectly designed for ripping and tearing their prey.  Join us as we discover everything you need to know about shark teeth.

What do tiger sharks eat - feeding a tiger shark
Shark teeth can be needle-like, triangular, or even flat!

Tomas Kotouc/Shutterstock.com

Types of Shark Teeth

There are four different types of shark teeth and which type a shark has largely depends on their diet.

Dense flattened teeth – these are mainly found in sharks that live at the bottom of the ocean, such as nurse sharks.  This is because bottom-dwelling sharks often feed on crabs, turtles, and crustaceans. Therefore, flattened teeth are particularly useful for cracking open shells.

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Needle-like teeth – these are so named because they are long and extremely sharp.  These teeth are particularly useful for grasping small or medium sized fish, squid, and even small sharks.  The long and sharp teeth make it easier to hold onto fish with narrow bodies.  Sharks that have these teeth include the bull shark which is best known for it’s ability to survive in freshwater habitats such as rivers and lakes.

Pointed lower teeth and triangular upper teeth – this type is most effective for biting larger prey – such as seals, dolphins, and whales.  This tooth combination has serrated edges which are used to cut prey into smaller pieces that are easier to swallow.  Sharks that have these teeth include the notorious great white shark and oceanic whitetips – both of which are responsible for many fatal attacks on humans.

Non-functional teeth – the final type is non-functional teeth which are present in filter-feeding sharks – basking, whale, and megamouth sharks.  These sharks feed mainly on plankton and other small organisms. Filter-feeders don’t use their teeth at all, hence the term “non-functional teeth”.  Instead, these sharks open their mouths wide and swim towards their prey.  The small organisms are sucked in, the water is filtered back out, and their prey is swallowed.  Despite their massive size, these sharks are considered to be harmless as they do not bite.

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

Havoc/Shutterstock.com

How many Teeth do Sharks have?

Sharks are able to cement their position as one of the best predators around due to their ability to constantly replace their teeth.  On average sharks have between 50 and 300 teeth at any one time.  Sharks don’t have just one row of teeth like most animals, they actually have many rows.  When the old tooth drops out, the new tooth behind it just replaces it – like a constant conveyor belt of teeth!

Shark teeth are made from dentin which is extremely strong, but they don’t have roots to hold them in.  Instead, their teeth are seated in their gums.  The lack of roots means that they are easily shed, especially when combined with the wear and tear they get when the shark is biting and grabbing it’s prey.

Sharks teeth are counted in rows along their jaw line and series from the outside of the jaw inwards.  On average, sharks have fifteen rows and five series of teeth, so up to 300 teeth at any one time.  However, some sharks have many, many more teeth.  Bull sharks can have seven series and up to fifty rows of teeth – so around 350 teeth at once which makes them even more formidable.

Most sharks lose several teeth per week, but the actual rate of tooth loss depends on what they are eating.  Once the old tooth is lost the new one usually comes forward to take it’s place within a day.  Incredibly, as some sharks can live for 30 years, they can go through more than 20,000 teeth in their lifetime.

Bite Force

As well as their teeth, one of the most important factors for a shark is their bite force.  One of the main reasons that they have such a powerful bite is their jaw.  Most animals have an upper jaw that is is fixed to their skull, however sharks don’t.  Instead, their upper jaw sits below their skull and can be detached when they attack their prey.  This means that they can use their whole mouth to grab their prey.  Most sharks sink their bottom teeth in first and then crash their upper jaw down.

As sharks have a uniquely adapted jaw, they have a really, really powerful bite.  Great white sharks are generally accepted as having the second highest bite force in the world after saltwater crocodiles.  However, there has recently been some dispute over which shark has the greatest bite force – great whites or bull sharks.

Although great whites are generally larger than bull sharks, so will always literally have a bigger bite, pound for pound bull sharks might just have the edge.  A direct comparison found that a 9 foot long bull shark had a bite of 478 pounds, while an 8 foot long great white had a bite of 360 pounds. This proves that pound for pound bull sharks have a stronger bite.  This is believed to be because bull sharks often feed in murky water, which means that when they bite their prey they really don’t want to lose it.  So, once they have sunk their teeth in they’re definitely not letting go anytime soon, unlike great whites that rip and tear their prey.

Great White Bares its Teeth
Great whites can go through more than 20,000 teeth in their lifetime

Tomas Kotouc/Shutterstock.com

Ancient Shark Teeth

Depending on species the average modern shark tooth is between 0.5 and 2 inches long.  Great white sharks, for example, have teeth that are around 2 inches.  However, there was an ancient shark that could outdo all of today’s sharks, and that beast was the Megalodon.  The Megolodon was the largest shark to have ever existed and reached lengths of between 60 and 70 feet long. To go with it’s astronomical length they also had some pretty huge teeth.  Megolodon literally means “big tooth” and the largest Megolodon teeth that have been found are a whopping 7 inches long!  Megolodon’s teeth were similar to the great white – triangular shaped with serrated edges. This indicates they had a similar diet of whales, sharks, fish, and other marine mammals.

Although the Megolodon had teeth that were similar to great whites – pointed lower teeth and triangular upper teeth – others were completely different. There are some ancient shark teeth that have been found which represent the evolution of sharks.  Known as transitional teeth, they show the way that one species of shark has evolved into another.  The best known example of transitional teeth show the evolution of the now extinct giant mako shark into the great whites that we see today.  These transitional teeth were wider and flatter like the giant mako. However, they also show some evidence of the beginning of the serrations that are seen on great white shark teeth.  These transitional teeth are from a “transitional species” known as Carcharodon hubbelli.

Check out the largest shark tooth ever discovered.

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About the Author

I have been writing professionally for several years with a focus on animals and wildlife. I love spending time in the outdoors and when not writing I can be found on the farm surrounded by horses, dogs, sheep, and pigs.

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