Seeds, Loss of Teeth May Have Saved Birds from Extinction

bird beak seed photo
Photo by hedera.baltica
Missing teeth can lead to major dental health problems in people, including a heightened risk for cavities and gum disease, as well as loss of jaw bone structure. But in the mass extinction that claimed the dinosaurs, tooth loss may have played a role in the survival of the species that gave us modern birds, according to recent research.

Teeth Take Bite out of Bird Mystery

Near the end of the Cretaceous period, when an event thought to have been triggered by the impact of a giant asteroid wiped out nearly three-quarters of the plant and animal life on the planet, the skies belonged to avian dinosaurs and feathered creatures with lizard-like snouts and teeth. Many bird-like beasts went the way of the dinosaurs.

Those that managed to survive and evolve into birds as we know them today may have done so because they did not have teeth and were able to live on seeds when other food was not available, according to research whose findings were published in April in Current Biology. To learn why some of these early bird relatives thrived while others disappeared, scientists turned to teeth.

Researchers reviewed data from more than 3,000 fossilized teeth belonging to different families of maniraptora, dinosaurs that include the velociraptor and share many traits with birds. The teeth spanned about 18 million years, and the paleontologists were looking for signs of dietary changes.

Diet and Dinosaur Teeth

Significant changes to diet are often reflected in the teeth, especially when a depletion of nutrients occurs. In the case of the extinction event, there was little nourishment for herbivores and carnivores alike, though seeds remained. Indeed researchers found that the teeth maintained consistency to the end of the Cretaceous period; this indicated that there was not a gradual decline among the species, but a relatively sudden die-off.

This finding led to a new question: If these toothy, bird-like animals and maniraptors were going strong prior to the mass extinction, why did they die while their toothless relatives prospered?

As lead researcher Derek Larson explained in a BBC report, “Looking at the diet of modern birds, we were able to reconstruct a hypothetical ancestral bird and what its likely diet would have been. … What we’re envisaging is a seed-eating bird, so you’d have a relatively short and robust strong beak, which would be able to crush these seeds.”

The origin of beaks is still not entirely understood, although scientists last year zeroed in on two genes that provide clues about how dinosaur snouts became bird beaks.

Missing Teeth in People

In humans, missing teeth can lead to a host of dental health problems that can eventually impact your overall health. Without treatment, the remaining natural teeth begin to progressively shift their positions.

This opens up spaces that contribute to an increased risk for plaque accumulation, tooth decay and periodontal disease. It can also cause bone loss in the jaw, which impairs bite function and affects the appearance of your face.

There are beautiful, effective treatments for missing teeth, including dental implants and Fountain of Youth™ Dentures. Each of these options is designed to look, feel and function much like your natural teeth, and they offer superior durability and comfort compared with traditional dentures.

If you live in Austin and you’re concerned about the effects of missing teeth on your smile and your health, please call Dan Matthews, DDS, today at 512-452-2273 or contact our Bee Cave Road office online to learn more about your options.

Dan Matthews DDS
Dan Matthews Dan Matthews DDS The Park at Eanes Creek,
4407 Bee Cave Road
Building 2, Suite 221
Austin, Texas, 78746
(512) 452-2273
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