Leopard geckos are born with what looks like a toothless smile. But surely, they must have denticles of some kind so that they can devour food, right. So, do Leopard geckos have teeth or not? And if yes, why can’t you see them, and how many are there?
Hatchling leopard geckos leave the egg armed with 100 barely-visible peg-shaped conical teeth on their upper and lower jaws. These colorful reptiles are polyphyodonts, meaning they continually replace their teeth, a phenomenon that occurs every 3–4 months for the gecko’s lifespan.
In this article, you’ll learn everything about the bristle-like structure behind the gecko smile. So, let’s dig deep and take a closer look inside your pet’s mouth.
Table of Contents
1. Why Do Leopard Geckos Have So Many Teeth?
Did you know leopard geckos swallow, not chew, their food? So, why would they need teeth at all, let alone 100 of them? They’re not even aligned in a way that supports grinding and munching.
Well, your Leo needs to snap at predators and grip food before swallowing it; otherwise, that feisty insect prey would escape.
Fun fact: If you think your Leo has a lot of teeth, think on. The Madagascanleaf-tailed gecko has over 300, which is the most of any terrestrial vertebrate.
2. The Inside of a Leopard Gecko’s Mouth
The table below highlights some of the mouth components and the hidden tooth arrangement inside your leopard gecko’s mouth.
|Number of Teeth||Healthy Leos have 100 teeth from birth.|
|Type of Teeth||Pleurodont teeth (more on that shortly); tiny, conical |
pointed-tips of variable structure.
|Jaw Margin||Composed of bones, i.e., maxilla, premaxilla, and dentary.|
|Premaxilla Bone||Set at the tip of the upper jaw. Leopard geckos have |
9–13 teeth attached to their premaxilla bone.
|Upper Jaw||Holds the maxillary and premaxilla bones. Leos have |
more teeth along the upper jaw than the lower. The
exact numbers are hard to know due to constant
tooth loss and regeneration.
|Lower Jaw||Dentary bone (the only bone found in the lower jaw).|
3. Do Leopard Gecko’s Teeth Fall Out?
Leo’s teeth must fall out to make room for tooth replacements. We’ll get to the scientific explanation as to why this happens in a moment.
So, as your reptile loses its teeth, new ones seamlessly replace the old. When humans lose their baby or milk teeth, it takes up to six months for the adult tooth to grow and replace it. But your leopard gecko is never toothless, thanks to its pleurodont teeth.
What Are Pleurodont Teeth?
Many lizard species—including geckos—have teeth anchored to the inside of their jaws. This gives them strong roots but weak attachments.
The name given to this type of tooth is pleurodont. Because the tooth isn’t fused to the bone, the new ones get to regrow in the same place as the old ones.
How Leopard Gecko Tooth Replacement Works
Leopard geckos hatch into this world with a fully formed, complete set of exposed teeth. But new denticles replace that first set automatically within 3–4 months.
And already, a third set is growing just beneath the jaw, under the existing ones. As new teeth emerge through the tissue, they push out the old.
Marching Molars (Hind Molar Progression)
Tooth replacement is a continuous process. It starts at the back of the jaw, slowly pushing the tiny teeth forwards until the ones at the front fall out.
Hence the name, marching molars. The process resembles a slow-moving conveyor belt or wave. But why does this even happen? And why can’t your gecko have permanent teeth?
Scientists think it’s nature’s way of taking care of the dietary wear. In the wild, a gecko’s survival is dependent on a full set of functional teeth.
They need them for protection and to help consume prey. This makes your leopard gecko a polyphyodont, not to be confused with a diphyodont.
But what do these funny names really mean? Let’s take a look.
Polyphyodont Vs. Diphyodont
The scientific name for creatures that continually replace their teeth is polyphyodont. Polyphyodont species include most non-mammalian vertebrates.
That typically includes toothed fishes, amphibians, and reptiles. Diphyodonts, by contrast, only have two successive sets during their lifetime and include humans and most mammals.
4. What Happens to the Old Teeth?
Gecko’s teeth don’t fall out simultaneously; it’s a continuous process. The lost teeth are so tiny you won’t see them unless you know what you’re looking for. And because they fall out from the front, there’s no risk of Leo swallowing them.
Fun fact: Leopard geckos grow thousands of new teeth in a lifetime, sometimes more than 4,000, depending on how long they live.
5. What Are Leopard Gecko’s Teeth Made Of?
Leo’s teeth are made from the same materials as a mammal’s. The thin protective outer covering is enamel, and under that is dentin.
Tooth dentin is a yellowish tissue that’s softer than enamel but harder than bone and makes up the bulk of the tooth. And cementum is a kind of cement that anchors the reptile’s tooth to its jaw bone.
6. How Similar Are Leo’s Denticles to Human Teeth?
The only similarity your teeth have with geckos is the materials they’re made from. Your pet has 100 tiny teeth to your 32, and you have four kinds, i.e., incisors, canines, premolars, and molars, each with a specific function.
Leo has rows of tiny temporary conical denticles, while a human’s second set is for life.
Human teeth need constant maintenance. Geckos don’t have this problem as tooth shedding means they renew all their denticles every few months.
7. How Sharp Are A Leopard Gecko’s Teeth?
Your gecko’s teeth are very sharp with pointed tips, but they’re also minuscule. They may be formidable to tiny insects and predators, but that’s about it. The small size and large number make them much more effective for gripping than tearing or piercing.
Did you know? Thanks to their beauty, cleanliness, non-aggressive nature and ease of care, Leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularius) are now one of the world’s fastest-growing pets.
Can Leopard Gecko Teeth Pierce Human Skin?
There’s little chance your pet lizard will pierce your skin with its bite. The teeth are too tiny to break through, as this video illustrates.
When Your Gecko Draws Blood
OK, there are occasions when a gecko bite draws a tiny bit of blood, but it’s unusual. Treat it as you would any other minor cut if this happens to you. First, wash your hands using warm soapy water.
After drying, add a bit of disinfectant, then cover with a regular plaster to prevent infection.
Don’t Overreact to a Leo’s Bite
Sadly, many new owners overreact to an unexpected gecko bite. Snatching the hand away in panic has seen many a poor reptile flung through the air. But why would your cute, docile lizard want to bite you in the first place?
After all, their easy-going temperament makes them err on the side of flee, not fight, right?
Well, yes, but here are 4 reasons your pet gecko may feel the need to attack:
- Something or someone scares or startles it
- Stress, e.g., incorrect tank temperatures, over handling, other
- It’s hungry
- Mistakes your finger for food
Heed the Warning Signs
Even reptiles have bad days and wake up on the wrong side of the bed. But seriously, your Leo will let you know if it doesn’t want handling.
Leave it be if the tail wags frantically or points upwards as your hand approaches. Other warnings signs are hissing or screaming, though the latter is more common in juveniles than adults.
If you don’t heed the warnings signs and handle your gecko anyway, it may bite you. But worse than that, it could also break any bond or trust that was forming.
Three reasons for aggressive behavior: Leo shows signs of aggression or defensive behavior when: 1. You haven’t bonded yet. 2. Incorrect enclosure temperatures 3. Breeding behaviors.
8. Do Leopard Gecko Teeth Need Special Care?
Leopard geckos are hygienic reptiles. There are no dental or oral hygiene routines you need to carry out as the owner. But good husbandry helps protect your pet’s mouth and teeth from infection.
That means a healthy diet with proper nutrition and keeping the enclosure clean and in ideal condition. Failing the basics carries consequences.
9. Leopard Geckos and Mouth Rot
First, there’s no need to be fanatical and look for problems that don’t exist. If Leo seems happy and healthy and is behaving normally, then all is well. But it pays to know something about mouth rot so that you can recognize the warnings signs.
Mouth rot is often the result of a bacterial infection caused by an infected lesion. Another cause of infectivity is food trapped inside the mouth. In most cases, good husbandry prevents this potentially fatal condition from materializing.
Let’s go over the causes and symptoms in more detail. If you suspect that your leopard gecko has mouth rot, we highly recommend reading our article on mouth rot in leopard geckos here. It will explain everything you need to know.
The Dangers of a Poor Diet
Well-intentioned yet inexperienced pet owners may feed their lizards an inappropriate diet. Just because the reptile eats a “treat” doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
The sugars in soft canned foods and fruit could lead to teeth and gum disease. These conditions are bad enough, but they can also be a precursor for the dreaded mouth rot.
Feeding Tip? Feeding insects with nutritious food is a process called gut loading. The best advice is to gut load the live insects for 12 hours before feeding them to Leo.
A Dirty Enclosure
Keep unwanted bacteria out of Leo’s habitat by routine cleaning. Bacteria thrive in a dirty environment, so it makes sense to keep the enclosure sanitary. Moreover, the correct heating and lighting ranges also help to prevent mouth rot in pet lizards.
Visible Signs of Inflammation
Another potential indicator of mouth rot is visible inflammation. It typically manifests as a swollen face, mouth, or parts of the head. Therefore, it’s wise to periodically check for inflamed mouth tissue around your pet’s teeth.
Something else to look out for is the secretion of fluids, especially foul-smelling yellow-colored puss around the nose.
A visibly swollen head and face suggest an advanced case of mouth rot. As a caring pet owner, you’re more likely to notice and act on lesser symptoms much earlier (see next).
Other Signs to Look Out For
If your Leo starts to display one or more of the four signs below, it’s time to forget Dr. Google and get your pet checked out by a qualified vet.
- Not drinking or vastly reduced water intake
- Goes off its food
- Thick saliva around the mouth
- Dead-looking, smelly tissue inside the mouth
10. Should You Brush Leopard Gecko’s Teeth?
There’s no need to brush your leopard gecko’s teeth. However, there may be a time when you need to remove stuck dirt (substrate) out of its mouth. To do this, gently turn your lizard on its side and rinse its mouth using lukewarm water.
The idea is to flush the trapped substrate or other obstruction away carefully. If it’s too jammed, or you’re too squeamish, get a professional to remove it for you.
11. What Diseases Could Affect Leo’s Teeth?
The biggest threat to Leopard Gecko’s teeth is bacterial infections and mouth rot. See the previous sections for signs, symptoms, and prevention.
Congratulations! You’re now an expert on your Leo’s teeth.