Representative image

(Wendy Cover/NOAA)

If you had one thing you wanted to feel thankful for today, we propose you consider your teeth. Without these wonderful appendages, we would have to blend all our delicious foodstuffs down to drab smoothies, no one would understand each other’s speech, and worst of all, we would have no funny videos of people getting their wisdom teeth removed! But this, of course, begs the question, when did we develop these surprisingly durable appendages in the first place?

While it’s hilarious to imagine early single-celled organisms chomping down on scrumptious deep-seafloor chemicals with their glistening 32s, evolution unfortunately doesn’t work that way. Most scientists cannot pinpoint precisely when organisms developed their chompers, but now, we might have an answer!

Scientists have dug up the motherload of ancient fish fossils in southern China that is all the bark and the bite! These Silurian age fossils were frozen almost 450 million years ago, providing the first evidence of teeth and jaw development on the submerged planet.

The researchers found multiple teeth clustered onto bones called ‘teeth whorls’, 14 million years older than any other teeth found from different species! This toothy development resulted from our backboned ancestors realising that there’s plenty of other tastier and nutritious fish in the sea to grub on. Thus, in addition to their gnashers, they began developing specialised fins to aid their onslaught.

While this meant the oceans were no longer safe due to these remarkable spiky-toothed rascals, the most common fish at the time was a boomerang-shaped fish that used its jaws to scoop up worms — a slightly harmless threat, unless you’re a worm.

Since the next age of evolution is commonly termed ‘the Age of Fishes’ due to their prevalence and boom during the time, the wide assortment of toothed fossils discovered now shows that we might’ve spoken a bit too soon. This discovery will thus likely rewrite our understanding of the ecosystems and development of organisms during this period. And if you haven’t already, here’s your reminder to brush your teeth — it’s the least you can do to thank evolution for toiling for 500 million years to give them to you!

These primary findings are from a study published in the journal Nature, which can be accessed here.

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