Muscles advance the teeth in sand dollars and other sea urchins

Olaf Ellers, Malcolm Telford


We demonstrate the action of the dental promoter muscles in advancing the continuously growing teeth of sand dollars and sea urchins. Teeth wear at the occlusal end, while new calcite is added to the opposite end. Dental ligaments rigidly hold teeth during chewing, but soften and reform during advancement. The source of forces that advance the teeth was unknown until our discovery of the dental promoter muscles. The muscles, which underly the tooth, attach centrally to the stereom of the pyramid of the Aristotle's lantern (jaw) and peripherally to a membrane that covers the distal end of the tooth. The muscles shorten along an axis nearly parallel to the long axis of the tooth. We stimulated contraction by addition of acetylcholine, with increasing concentrations of acetylcholine generating higher forces. Forces exerted by this muscle are appropriate for its size and are 1000 times lower than forces exerted by interpyramidal muscles that generate chewing forces. In sand dollars, a single muscle contraction of the dental promoter muscle can account for half the mean daily advancement of the teeth.

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