Understanding Reptile Dental Anatomy: Clinical Applications

Key Points

  • Lizards lack tooth sockets or alveoli and their dentition is acrodont or pleurodont.
  • Acrodont dentition is superficially attached to the biting edges of the mandible and maxilla.
  • It is particularly important to take care when handling reptiles with acrodont dentition as the teeth will not be replaced.
  • Chameleons and agamid lizards, such as bearded dragons  and water dragons, possess acrodont dentition.
  • Acrodont teeth are easily lost and are not replaced. Instead as teeth wear, the biting surface eventually becomes the bone itself.
  • Pleurodont dentition is found in snakes and many lizard species, including iguanid lizards and monitors.
  • With pleurodont dentition, a larger surface area of the tooth is in contact with the jawbone creating a stronger attachment.
  • Pleurodont dentition is regularly replaced throughout life.
  • Periodontal disease is particularly common in agamid lizards and chameleons. Owners often do not recognize any dental problems until disease is quite advanced.

Reptile dentition tends to be relatively uniform with a simple, conical shape. Most reptile teeth are loosely attached with the dental attachment most superficial in acrodontic species. Tooth loss and replacement is a normal occurrence in reptile species with pleurodont dentition, which includes snakes, and many lizards. Take special care when handling reptiles with acrodont dentition as teeth will not be replaced when infected or fractured. Additionally, periodontal disease is common in captive lizards with acrodont dentition such as bearded dragons and chameleons. Periodontal disease is an insidious condition. As plaque formation builds and gingivitis worsens, many reptiles will continue . . .

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NOTE:  References are listed at the end of each paragraph in this manuscript. If more detailed or specific references are required, please download this PDF.


Further reading

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D’Amore DC. Illustrating ontogenetic change in the dentition of the Nile monitor lizard, Varanus niloticus: a case study in the application of geometric morphometric methods for the quantification of shape-size heterodonty. J Anat 226(5):403-419, 2015.

López Bosch D. Monsters and dragons: venomous lizards. Feb 5, 2016. All You Need is Biology website. Available at allyouneedisbiology.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/venomous-lizards/. Accessed March 14, 2018.

Teaford MF, Smith MM, Ferguson MWJ (eds). Development, Function and Evolution of Teeth. New York: Cambridge University Press; 2000.

Wellehan JF, Gunkel CI, Kledzik D, et al. Use of a nerve locator to facilitate administration of mandibular nerve blocks in crocodilians. J Zoo Wildl Med 37(3):405-408, 2006.

Zaher H, Rippel O. Tooth implantation and replacement in squamates, with special reference to mosasaur lizards and snakes. American Museum novitates ; no. 3271. Available at digitallibrary.amnh.org/handle/2246/3047. Accessed February 8, 2017.

To cite this page:

Pollock CG. Understanding reptile dental anatomy: Clinical applications. March 14, 2018. Available at https://lafeber.com/vet/understanding-reptile-dental-anatomy-clinical-applications/