Tooth morphology and development can provide valuable insights into the feeding behaviour and evolution of extinct organisms. The teeth of Theropoda, the only clade of predominantly predatory dinosaurs, are characterized by ziphodonty, the presence of serrations (denticles) on their cutting edges. Known today only in varanid lizards, ziphodonty is much more pervasive in the fossil record. Here we present the first model for the development of ziphodont teeth in theropods through histological, SEM, and SR-FTIR analyses, revealing that structures previously hypothesized to prevent tooth breakage instead first evolved to shape and maintain the characteristic denticles through the life of the tooth. We show that this novel complex of dental morphology and tissues characterizes Theropoda, with the exception of species with modified feeding behaviours, suggesting that these characters are important for facilitating the hypercarnivorous diet of most theropods. This adaptation may have played an important role in the initial radiation and subsequent success of theropods as terrestrial apex predators.