When I was a kid, I sometimes overheard older guys talk about cars. Most of those conversations went in one ear and out the other. I mean they are all cars right? I did notice some differences like size, color, 2-door vs. 4-door etc. but I did not really care.
When people look at a hyena, many see a dog. I mean it looks like a dog. It often times acts like a dog. Well, hyenas are not dogs and what is “under the hood” matters.
There is nothing too special about hyena teeth compared to canids (wolfs, dogs, coyotes, foxes, etc.) They are a little bit beefier but no paradigm shifting differences. There is a big difference in how they are used, however.
The largest and strongest wolfs can give a bite in the low to mid 400 psi range. The more powerful domestic dogs can generate a bite in the low to mid 300 psi range. An exception is the “Kangal” breed which can deliver a bite in the mid 700 psi range.
This is where things get different. Bite force readings are hard to get in general. On animals in the wild its even harder. However, at a little over 100 pounds spotted hyenas have generated bites in excess of over 1100 psi! In fact, one of the grouping names for hyenas in this category (most of them not just the spotted hyena) is “bone crushing hyenas”.
Spotted hyenas have much more muscle mass in their jaws compare to canids. It is sometimes hard to tell because their necks are so thick.
Yes, teeth can break break and chip under that force. However, animals use their teeth with mundane frequency so much so they get quite skilled in knowing when and where (both on prey and in their mouth) they can bite and how hard. Mammals can, in a manner similar to snakes, do “dry bites” where instead of varying how much venom they inject they can vary the force based on occasion and location.
The ability to crush bone is very useful in the wild and not just for fighting. There are nutrients in the marrow of bone that would be left untapped if they could not process it. This is why spotted hyenas are sometimes seen digging up bones and engaging in scavenger behavior. It is much more efficient to just crack into a bone someone/something else killed then to hunt down and kill your own prey (they do that too). If fuel for you car was scarce, then having a flex fuel vehicle that can use all grades of gasoline, kerosene, diesel, etc. would be a huge advantage.
Unlike stored energy weapons (like guns), melee weapons such as knives and jaws depend on the speed, strength, and dexterity of the user for best effect. Translation: its not the knife but the force behind it. Spotted hyenas can generate more bite force than anything close to their size and that is huge “difference”.