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Shark Dentists?

By Laura Sams, Robert Sams, 6th February 2010

“Are you a shark? Are you worried about constantly losing your teeth and having to see a dentist? Well don’t be. You don’t need a dentist. You’re a shark!”

That is the opening line to a short sketch we are filming called “Your Teeth and You,” featuring a 1950’s dentist (my brother Rob) and a dental assistant (me), who teach sharks about the different kinds of teeth they have. The sketch is for our new episode of The Riddle Solvers, and we just finished filming it in a lovely dental office in Oregon, where we were fortunate enough to find people who would let us take over their surgical room for a day. We were also lucky to work with a great makeup artist who could give Robert a dashing mustache, and who could give me very styled hair (and darker than usual eyebrows).

So why film a sketch about shark teeth? We are trying to bring the science and mystery of sharks to families in a funny, tangible way. And shark teeth are amazing. Shark teeth are mysterious and exciting to hold in your hand. They are symbols of beauty and adventure. When I was a girl, holding a shark tooth was a gateway to imagining the thrills of the deep blue sea.

Shark teeth are arranged like a conveyor belt for the most part, and some sharks can lose up to 30,000 teeth in a lifetime. Yes, one more than 29,999. That is a lot of teeth. (As Rob says in the sketch, in a very bad-joke kind of way, “That’s a lot of money from the shark toothfairy.”) Shark teeth come in all sorts of shapes and sizes too. They are fabulous examples of how you can learn about an animal’s diet from the size/shape of its dentition. Some shark teeth are like needles for holding prey, some are like knives for cutting prey, some are simply round for crushing shells . . . The Save Our Seas Foundation has a wonderful Sharks of the World Field Guide, which features all the known species of sharks, along with a sketch of every shark’s tooth shape.

I recently learned that there are, in fact, shark dentists – though they are musicians who make up a band called The Shark Dentists. If there were general practice shark dentists, they would certainly have a diverse job, servicing so many kinds of tooth shapes. And it would probably take a long time to floss all the teeth in a shark’s jaw. I do think it would be frustrating that after cleaning and flossing a shark’s teeth, the teeth would soon fall out and be replaced anyway . . . . yes, it’s a good thing I chose a career other than a shark dentist.

I will leave you with the last line of the sketch. “Whether you’ve got cutters or graspers, crushers or mashers, slicers or dicers or just smiling nicers . . . be proud. You’re a shark.”

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