Like most aspects of crocodilian evolution, alligator teeth are specifically adapted for their role as semi-aquatic predators.
Table of Contents
What You’ll Learn
- What alligator teeth look like
- Crocodile vs. alligator teeth differences
- How alligator teeth are adapted to suit their diet
- Information about purchasing alligator teeth, such as ethics and cost
…and much more!
We’ll also answer common questions, such as:
- Are alligator teeth hollow?
- Can alligators regrow their teeth?
- How many teeth do alligators have?
- What is the difference between crocodile vs. alligator teeth?
Alligator Background Information
The alligators are a family of crocodilians that includes eight species in total.
They have been separate from the crocodiles for around 90 million years.
There are two “true” alligators (genus: Alligator):
- The American Alligator (Alligator mississipiensis) – A large species endemic to the Southeastern US
- The Chinese Alligator (Alligator sinensis) – A relatively small species endemic to China
- …along with six species known as the “caimans”, native to Central and South America.
The largest alligator species is the black caiman (Melanosuchus niger) which can exceed 16 ft in length! (Tip: Read about the largest CROCODILE and the actual difference between crocodiles and alligators.)
The black caiman is one of the largest predators in South America, but still quite a bit smaller than the largest crocodile species, which can exceed 20 ft in length!
Caimans are fairly diverse in appearance.
Some caimans strongly resemble true alligators – with dark coloration and broad snouts – while others (particularly the dwarf caiman) look quite bizarre.
Gator diets consist mostly of fish, though they also eat turtles, snakes, birds, and small mammals.
Evidence of fruit consumption in alligators indicates that they may even be partial to a plant-based meal every once in a while!
Alligator teeth all share some common characteristics, which you’ll learn about in the next section.
What Do Alligator Teeth Look Like?
Alligator teeth do vary a little by species. For the most part, they have an elongated, robust, and slightly curved appearance.
They are covered in a thick layer of white enamel, just like our own teeth.
Unlike human teeth, alligator teeth are not flattened. Instead, they have more of a conical shape.
If you look at any alligator (or crocodile), you’ll notice that not all teeth are the same size.
Like mammals, alligators have different teeth for slightly different functions.
Larger, more pointed teeth help them to grip slippery prey such as fish.
Smaller, blunt teeth help the alligator crush hard-shelled organisms – particularly turtles.
The overall robustness of alligator teeth allows them to withstand the crushing force of the alligator’s jaws.
How Many Teeth Do Alligators Have?
Alligators can have between 70 and 80 teeth in their jaws at any point in their life.
Crocodiles – on the other hand – have around 60 teeth (but this varies by species).
The toothiest of all crocodilians is the Indian Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus).
In it’s long, unusual snout, the gharial can house 110 teeth!
The gharial’s teeth are needle-like in appearance, adapted for its specialist, fish-eating diet.
Do Alligators Regrow Their Teeth?
Due to the crushing, 2980 PSI bite of the alligator, teeth can break off regularly. Thankfully, alligators can regrow their teeth.
They hope that it may hold secrets that can improve modern dental medicine.
Alligators’ ability to regrow teeth owes to the presence of “stem cells” – unspecialized cells that can form the basis of new tissues in the body.
Stem cells are present in the alligator’s jaw and become activated when teeth break away.
Beneath each current tooth lies another, ready to be quickly replaced if necessary.
Beneath the “backup” tooth are groups of stem cells, which begin to form a new next tooth as soon as one is lost.
Fun Fact: These groups of teeth and stem cells are known as “family units”.
This ability ensures that the alligator never loses its smile, and retains the ability to catch prey.
Scientists have found that alligators can regenerate their teeth around 50 times throughout their lifespan.
Older animals (around 50 years of age or above) often have very few teeth remaining.
You may have heard that alligators can live forever, but die of starvation once their teeth stop re growing. This myth has been disproven.
We now know that alligators can die of old age.
They can also survive for long periods with very few remaining teeth.
Are Alligator Teeth Hollow?
Yes, gator teeth are hollow.
Being hollow allows space for new teeth to grow beneath the old.
This important adaptation means that a new tooth can be ready for use as soon as the old tooth falls out.
You can see detailed images of this unusual arrangement here.
Crocodile vs. Alligator Teeth
Overall, crocodile teeth are longer and more pointed than those of alligators.
Many crocodiles prey on large mammals – such as wildebeest – while alligators tend to mostly eat fish, turtles, and other smaller animals.
A croc’s sharp, pointed teeth allow it to grip large prey when tearing off chunks of flesh.
Caiman – members of the alligator family from South and Central America – also have slightly longer teeth than “true” alligators.
Alligators and crocodiles both have teeth of differing sizes throughout the mouth.
This includes some teeth that are significantly enlarged – especially the fourth tooth on either side of the lower jaw (counting from the snout).
These enlarged teeth sit in specialized grooves within the upper jaw. The position of these grooves differs between crocs and alligators.
In alligators, the grooves are located inside of the upper jaw (in the roof of the mouth).
The enlarged fourth teeth are concealed when the alligator’s mouth is closed.
In crocodiles, the grooves are on either side of the upper jaw.
This position means that these enlarged teeth are always visible – even when the croc’s mouth is closed.
To learn more about the key distinctions between the crocodilian families, check out our article on crocodile vs. alligator differences.
Purchasing Alligator Teeth
You’ll find gator teeth for sale online and in souvenir stores throughout areas where they are farmed or found in the wild.
While it can be tempting to purchase alligator tooth trinkets – which cost as little as $4 – you must consider the ethics of your purchase.
All crocodilians were decimated by overhunting over the past century. Only now have some populations started to recover.
Alligator population recovery in the US is mostly due to the introduction of sustainable management practices.
By encouraging the farming of alligators and protecting their natural habitat – wild animals have been spared from extinction.
This means that supporting reputable alligator farms actually helps to conserve wild alligator populations.
That said, it is VITAL to know where your animal products come from.
Buying blindly from suspicious sources can support poaching or mistreatment of animals.
The illegal harvest or export of alligator parts – without a CITES permit – is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Have you ever found alligator teeth – in the wilderness or for sale at a souvenir shop? Leave a comment to tell us about your thoughts and experiences.