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Do Goldfish Have Teeth? All About Their Dental Structure

Something I’ve often wondered when I feed my goldfish is whether or not they have teeth. While they may have teeth, it’s not quite what you might think, so let’s take a look.

Quick Answer

Goldfish do have teeth, although these are not regular teeth like us human beings have. Goldfish have a very different dental structure from what we usually associate with teeth. These fish have what are known as pharyngeal teeth or pharyngeal jaws, which are used to grind and process their food.

Keep reading to find out everything there is to know about the dental structure of goldfish, as well as many other interesting facts about their teeth.

The Pharyngeal Teeth of Goldfish

It is really weird to think about the dental structure of goldfish. After all, when you look into a goldfish’s mouth, you can’t really see any teeth at all. 

This leads many people to believe that goldfish don’t actually have teeth, but this is not true. Although goldfish may not have the same set of pearly whites as you do, they do still have teeth.

After all, consider the fact that goldfish still need a way to process and grind their food, to make it small enough to digest. 

Just think about the fact that you give your goldfish all sorts of flakes and pellets. You really think that goldfish swallow those pellets whole? The answer is no, they do chew them, and this is done using their pharyngeal teeth or pharyngeal jaws.

This is a special set of jaws or teeth that is located in the rear of the mouth, all the way back in the throat. 

If you were to look at your goldfish from the outside, the pharyngeal jaws would be located in the throat behind the gills. Remember that these are not externally visible, so you won’t be able to see them.

Regular goldfish have two so-called pharyngeal arches, both of which contain four teeth, for a total of eight teeth. Keep in mind that these pharyngeal teeth are specifically designed so that goldfish can eat a wide variety of foods. 

Remember that goldfish are omnivores, which means that they eat algae, plant matter, small fish, and small invertebrates. These pharyngeal teeth are designed to handle all of these foods.

Chewing with Pharyngeal Teeth

Some people might think that pharyngeal teeth are like a second set of teeth that finish the food off once the initial set of teeth have done their damage, but this is not the case.

 If you look into the mouth of the goldfish, there are not any teeth there whatsoever, at least not ones that you can see visually.

Goldfish break down food using their mouths, but only to a certain extent. Once the food is partially broken down, it then moves back to the [pharyngeal, where the pharyngeal teeth break down the food the rest of the way.

Some Variations Between Goldfish Species

Although I’m not about to start listing all of the different types of goldfish out there and how many teeth they have, it is important to note that there is some variability here. 

The exact number and structure of these pharyngeal teeth can vary quite greatly among different goldfish individuals and species.

For instance, there are some types of goldfish that eat more of a herbivorous diet than anything else. In layman’s terms, this means that they eat a lot of plant matter. 

In this case, the pharyngeal teeth of these goldfish are generally adapted to eating plant matter and other such foods, which means that they are generally flat, kind of like your molars.

However, there are also other types of goldfish that eat much more animal matter, and their teeth are suited for this. The pharyngeal teeth on goldfish that eat more of the carnivorous diet tend to be a bit more pointed to allow for live animal processing.

Pharyngeal Teeth Can Regenerate

Something very interesting to note about the pharyngeal teeth of goldfish is that they can regenerate. If a goldfish damages or loses these teeth, it can eventually regrow them. 

This is a natural adaptation that has happened over many years to ensure that goldfish can continue eating even if some of their teeth are damaged or lost.

The cool thing about these teeth being able to regenerate is that goldfish therefore never need to go to the dentist. If you have other pets, such as dogs and cats, you probably know that regular visits to the vet to take care of teeth are vital. 

However, with goldfish, if the teeth get damaged or start to degrade in any way, they’ll simply fall out and grow back.

Goldfish Mouthing

Something that I noticed my goldfish doing on occasion is a behavior known as moothing. This involves the goldfish chewing on the substrate or gravel that is present in the tank. I find it happens most often with small pieces of gravel.

It might appear like a goldfish is trying to grind down its pharyngeal teeth, kind of like grinding down its teeth to prevent them from growing continuously, but this is not the case.

Goldfish do not need to do this. It is more likely that your goldfish is just trying to explore its environment and is inspecting various pieces of substrate to see if they might be sources of food. 

Do Goldfish Bite?

Many people wonder whether or not goldfish bite, and if they do, if it hurts. Unlike sharks, goldfish are not these massive predators. Even if you get your finger right up to one, the chances of it biting you are very minimal. 

Even if the goldfish does try to bite you, it’s more likely to feel like a set of soft gums on your fingers rather than teeth because those pharyngeal teeth are so far back in the throat of the goldfish, it is extremely unlikely that you will feel them at all.

Furthermore, they generally aren’t sharp at all, and goldfish also don’t have a lot of power in their jaws. 

This means that even if your finger were to get far enough back in the throat to feel the teeth, they probably wouldn’t cause much damage at all. I’d honestly be surprised if a goldfish bite even did so much as draw blood.

What is however important to note is that the teeth of a goldfish aren’t usually good enough to hang on to another fish. Remember that wild goldfish are not these massive predators, they do sometimes eat other fish.

They aren’t the best hunters, but if they do manage to capture smaller fish, they will eat it. And this of course means that they need to have teeth that are suitable enough for grinding up other fish. 

So, while a goldfish bite probably won’t hurt your finger, it will likely cause some serious damage to a much smaller fish that is unlucky to find itself within the pharyngeal jaws.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, while it is true that goldfish do have teeth, they don’t pose any threat to you or your fingers. 

At the very most, they pose a threat to some goldfish pellets and some smaller fish that are unlucky enough to find themselves within the jaws of your goldfish. Luckily for you however, you never need to take your goldfish to the dentist, because those pharyngeal teeth will just keep growing back over and over again. Just make sure to feed your goldfish a healthy diet!