The study, led by a team of researchers from the University of California-Davis, showed that tooth enamel is vulnerable to fracturing by the bite of sharks, which can result in a large amount of abrasive debris being deposited on the tooth.
Researchers from UC-Davis and the University, Darmstadt in Germany, examined the teeth of sharks and other marine animals, and compared them to enamel from human teeth and dental plaque.
The team found that tooth fragments were more likely to break and cause a dent if they hit the enamel, rather than denting on the surface.
“There’s a lot of speculation about whether sharks have teeth because of their size and their sharp claws, but it seems they’re actually a pretty good dental material, because we found that there was a lot more dent material there than in other shark species,” lead author Ralf Lutz told Reuters Health.
“We can’t just go in and put a dent in it with a hammer, we have to take the dent out of the tooth and put it back together again.”
The team also measured the amount of bone fragments in the tooth as it healed, and found that enamel in the dent healed more slowly than in teeth from other sharks.
The scientists say the study provides the first evidence that teeth fracture as a result of a shark bite, and could provide clues to the mechanisms by which shark bites impact on the human body.
“These are just preliminary results,” Lutz said.
“This is very preliminary and the sample size is small.
There’s a long way to go before we can really say what’s the long-term effects of this type of trauma on human dentition.”
The researchers suggest that shark bite injury may have an impact on human health in many ways.
“It could be a factor in developing disease and in the development of chronic diseases,” Luthus said.
In the future, the researchers are also looking at tooth fragments in sharks that have been injured, to see if they may be different to those found in human teeth.
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the US Army Research Office and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.