Tyranosur rex: 68 million-year-old fossil revealed dinosaurs suffered from toothache

The skull of the Tyrannosaurus rex “Tristan Otto” that was examined by researchers (Europa Press)

A Tyrannosaurus rex that roamed the Earth 68 million years ago appears to have had a bone disease that would have caused severe tooth painrevealed a new study that was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

A team from Germany says the serious infection, called Tumefactive osteomyelitis, originated in the medulla of the left mandible of the dinosaur.

It probably would have given the animal, which the scientists dubbed “Tristan Otto”, an agonizing toothache, making her a particularly cranky predator. The fossilized remains of the creature are almost completely intact, making it one of the best-preserved specimens ever discovered.

Now, scanners have identified one of the first known cases of a painful condition that regularly affects humans. The main author, Charlie Hamm, radiologist at the Charité University Hospital in Berlin, said a CT scan of this fossil revealed thickening along the left tooth and a mass on the surface of the jaw that extended to the root of one of Otto’s teeth.

The German team used a non-invasive technique called DECT (dual energy computed tomography) to make this discovery. The scans detected a significant accumulation of the element fluorine, a finding related to brittle bones.

The copy of T. Rex baptized "Tristan Otto" , is in the National Museum of Berlin, it is the most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex found so far (Photo: Museum für Naturkunde)
The T. Rex specimen named “Tristan Otto”, is in the National Museum of Berlin, it is the most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex found so far (Photo: Museum für Naturkunde)

Dr. Hamm adds that the buildup of mass and fluoride supports the diagnosis of tumefactive osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone.

The size of a bus

Paleontologists discovered the T-rex in Montana in 2010. It is one of the few T-Rex skulls with a complete set of its 60 lethal dagger-shaped teeth.. At 4 meters high, 12 meters long and weighing eight tons, Otto is bigger than a two-story bus..

Only about 50 T-Rex fossils have been found since the first was discovered in 1902. None found 100 percent intact. With 170 original bones out of the roughly 300 skeletal parts, Tristan Otto is among the best specimens scientists can learn from. Tristan Otto was on display at the Natural History Museum in Berlin for four years.

Researchers believe it was one of the largest predators to ever walk the Earth. The creature’s notoriety has led to it being nicknamed the “king of the dinosaurs.”

The huge jaws bite so hard that they turned the armored animals into a simple lunch, chewing with a force of more than six tons. However, the new findings suggest that this severe toothache would have made Tristan Otto an even angrier foe while hunting in the present-day western United States.

Representative illustration of the Tyrannosaurus rex (credit: Julius Csotonyi)
Representative illustration of the Tyrannosaurus rex (credit: Julius Csotonyi)

Look without damaging

The imaging method has important implications for paleontology as an alternative to evaluation methods that damage fossil samples.. Hamm explained that DECT displays X-rays at two different energy levels to provide information on tissue composition and disease processes.

“We hypothesized that DECT could allow non-invasive element-based quantitative decomposition of material and thus help paleontologists characterize unique fossils,” says Hamm.

Scientists were able to overcome the difficulties of scanning a large part of Tristan Otto’s lower jaw. The compactness of the part was particularly challenging as image quality suffers when looking at very dense objects.

Replica of the Tyrannosaurus Rex on display at the Museum of Geology and Paleontology of Lake Gutiérrez, Argentina (Photo: Diario Río Negro)
Replica of the Tyrannosaurus Rex on display at the Museum of Geology and Paleontology of Lake Gutiérrez, Argentina (Photo: Diario Río Negro)

“We needed to adjust the current and voltage of the CT scanner tube to minimize interference and improve image quality,” adds Hamm. While this is a proof-of-concept study, non-invasive DECT images that provide structural and molecular information on unique fossil objects they have the potential to address an unmet need in paleontology, avoiding defragmentation or destruction ”.

The DECT approach shows promise in other paleontological applications, such as age determination and differentiation of real bone from replicas. -Completes the vertebrate paleontologist of the Berlin museum, Oliver Hampe-. The experimental design, including the use of a clinical CT scanner, will allow wide applications. “

Hamm and his colleagues also collaborated with U.S. paleontologists to perform a CT scan of “Sue”, the world famous T-rex housed in the Field Museum in Chicago. “With each project, our collaborative network grew and evolved into a truly multidisciplinary group of experts in geology, mineralogy, paleontology, and radiology, emphasizing the potential and relevance of the results for different scientific fields,” concluded Hamm.


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