We’ve talked about how only mammals chew their food, but that doesn’t mean that other animals don’t have advanced jaws. In fact, researchers from the University of Missouri recently discovered that crocodilians, including alligators and caimans, have a secret that helps make their bite so strong: they actually have a second jaw joint, one that’s remarkably similar to the human temporomandibular joint, and they hope it might provide insights into temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ).

The Strongest Bite Ever?

Although it’s in dispute, many researchers, including those who discovered the second jaw joint, assert that crocodiles have the most powerful bite of any living thing. Living crocodile species can bite down with a force of 16,000 newtons. For comparison, the average human bite is about 500 newtons.

But how does this compare with the bite force of extinct animals? It’s hard to say, but just like we can model the jaw flexibility of Tyrannosaurus rex, researchers have modeled the biting action of the carnivorous dinosaur and found that its bite force is probably somewhere between 20,000 and 57,000 newtons ! This is significantly greater than modern crocodiles, and possibly greater than extinct crocodiles, whose bite force has been estimated at 23,000 newtons. Of course, with extinct animals, it’s impossible to know what their bites were really like, but if a T-rex is going to be crunching the bones of hadrosaurs, which are at least ten times the size of modern antelope, it needs to have a very strong bite.

Durability and Cartilage

Researchers don’t know exactly what they’ll learn from this new jaw joint they discovered in crocodiles, but the fact that this joint can at least partly support such a massive bite force, means it might bring some insight into why our jaw joints are so vulnerable to excessive or repeated bite force. While we certainly won’t be able to install a second jaw joint to help distribute forces, the discovery could potentially help us understand how teeth and bite splints might help distribute forces to reduce temporomandibular joint damage.

One secret might very well be in the cartilage. Crocodiles are blessed with much thicker cartilage than humans. This thick cartilage helps pad their joints throughout their lives, avoiding arthritis that plagues humans.

Let’s hope these insights help us better treat TMJ in the future. But if you are suffering from TMJ now, we can help with the most modern and effective TMJ treatments in neuromuscular dentistry. Please call (803) 781-9090 for an appointment with a Columbia, SC TMJ dentist at Smile Columbia Dentistry.