Dental and Temporomandibular Joint Pathology of the Eastern Pacific Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina richardii)

M. T. Aalderink, H. P. Nguyen, Philip H Kass, Boaz Arzi, Frank J Verstraete

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10 Scopus citations


Skulls from 214 Eastern Pacific harbour seals (Phoca vitulina richardii) were examined macroscopically according to predefined criteria. The museum specimens were acquired from strandings along the west coast of the USA between 1909 and 2014. Ninety-eight skulls (45.8%) were from male animals, 108 (50.5%) from female animals and eight (3.7%) from animals of unknown sex. Their age varied from neonate to adult, with 101 adult animals (47.2%), 93 juvenile animals (43.5%) and 20 neonatal animals (9.3%). The majority of teeth were available for examination (90.0%); 7.5% of teeth were absent artefactually, 2.3% were deemed absent due to acquired tooth loss and 0.2% were absent congenitally. Males were no more likely than females to have either acquired tooth loss (P=0.492) or congenitally absent teeth (P=0.494). Adults had significantly more acquired tooth loss than juveniles (P<0.0001). All teeth were normal in morphology, except for four teeth from one skull that exhibited macrodontia. An unusual number of roots were found in most maxillary molar teeth; three roots were counted on six maxillary molar teeth and almost all other maxillary molar teeth available for examination had a fused root. Only 26 maxillary molar teeth exhibited two roots. Supernumerary teeth were associated with 13 normal teeth in nine specimens. The most common sites associated with supernumerary teeth were the left and right mandibular first premolar teeth (53.9% of all supernumerary teeth). No persistent deciduous teeth were found in any of the juvenile or adult specimens. Of the total number of teeth available for examination, 22.1% were abraded; six adult specimens showed attrition/abrasion on all of their teeth present. Adults were found to have a greater prevalence of abraded teeth than juveniles (P<0.0001). No significant difference was found in the appearance of attrition/abrasion between males and females (P=0.518). Tooth fractures were uncommon, affecting 11 teeth (0.2%) in seven animals. Periapical lesions were found in four skulls (2.1% of the total number of specimens). None of the specimens showed signs of enamel hypoplasia. More than half (55.6%) of alveoli, either with or without teeth, showed signs of alveolar bony changes consistent with periodontitis. A total of 178 specimens (91.8%) had at least one tooth associated with mild periodontitis. Lesions consistent with temporomandibular joint osteoarthritis (TMJ-OA) were found in 67 specimens (34.5%). The most common articular surface to be affected was the left mandibular fossa of the temporal bone, with lesions in 44 cases (32.8% of all lesions). In 13 specimens (6.7%) all articular surfaces were affected. Both periodontal disease and TMJ-OA were significantly more common in adults than in juveniles (P<0.0001). Although the significance of the high incidence of periodontitis and TMJ-OA in the Eastern Pacific harbor seal remains unknown, the occurrence and severity of these diseases as found in this study may play an important role in the morbidity and mortality of this species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Comparative Pathology
StateAccepted/In press - Oct 30 2014


  • Dental pathology
  • Harbour seal
  • Phoca vitulina richardii
  • Temporomandibular joint

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • veterinary(all)


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