Sea urchins (Echinodermata: Echinoidea) generally possess an intricate jaw apparatus that incorporates five teeth.
Although echinoid teeth consist of calcite, their complex internal design results in biomechanical properties far superior to those of inorganic forms of the constituent material. While the individual elements (or microstructure) of echinoid teeth provide general insight into processes of biomineralization, the cross-sectional shape (or macrostructure) of echinoid teeth is useful for phylogenetic and biomechanical inferences. However, studies of sea urchin tooth macro- and microstructure have traditionally been limited to a few readily available species, effectively disregarding a potentially high degree of structural diversity that could be informative in a number of ways. Having scanned numerous sea urchin species using micro-computed tomography µCT) and synchrotron µCT, we report a large variation in macro- and microstructure of sea urchin teeth. In addition, we describe aberrant tooth shapes and apply 3D visualization protocols that permit accelerated visual access to the complex microstructure of sea urchin teeth. Our broad survey identifies key taxa for further in-depth study and integrates previously assembled data on fossil species into a more comprehensive systematic analysis of sea urchin teeth. In order to circumvent the imprecise, word-based description of tooth shape, we introduce shape analysis algorithms that will permit the numerical and therefore more objective description of tooth macrostructure. Finally, we discuss how synchrotron µCT datasets permit virtual models of tooth microstructure to be generated as well as the simulation of tooth mechanics based on finite element modeling.