Aaron R. H. LeBlanc, Denis O. Lamoureux & Michael W. Caldwell (2017)
Mosasaurs and snakes have a periodontal ligament: timing and extent of calcification, not tissue complexity, determines tooth attachment mode in reptiles.
Journald of Anatomy (advance online publication)
Squamates present a unique challenge to our understanding of dental evolution in amniotes because they are the only extant tooth-bearing group for which a ligamentous tooth attachment is considered to be absent. This has led to the assumption that mammals and crocodilians have convergently evolved a ligamentous tooth attachment, composed of root cementum, periodontal ligament, and alveolar bone, whereas squamates are thought to possess a single bone of attachment tissue that fuses teeth to the jaws. The identity and homology of tooth attachment tissues between squamates, crocodilians, and mammals have thus been a focal point of debate for decades. We provide a novel interpretation of the mineralized attachment tissues in two focal taxa in this debate, mosasaurids and snakes, and compare dental tissue histology with that of the extant crocodilian Caiman sclerops. We identify a periodontal ligament in these squamates that usually exists temporarily as a soft connective tissue anchoring each tooth to the alveolar bone. We also identify two instances where complete calcification of the periodontal ligament does not occur: in a durophagous mosasaur, and in the hinged teeth of fossil and modern snakes. We propose that the periodontal ligament rapidly calcifies in the majority of mosasaurids and snakes, ankylosing the tooth to the jaw. This gives the appearance of a single, bone-like tissue fusing the tooth to the jaw in ankylosed teeth, but is simply the end stage of dental tissue ontogeny in most snakes and mosasaurids.