Free Research Paper on Dental Anthropology

Dental anthropology is a tool recently developed by physical anthropologists to describe a given population biologically. The research potential of dental evidence remained under-utilized until the middle of the nineteenth century. It has lately been realized that dental variations, both morphological and metrical, provide valuable information for the reconstruction of phylogenetic relationships among different species (ancient and living), the comparative study of different primate groups, evolutionary changes in dentition, the impact of diet on dentition and also for calculating the degree of biological distance among given communities.

It has been documented that dental features such as the size, shape and form (or complexity) of teeth, and the size of the dental arch are genetically determined. In all assumptions, multiple genes with additive effects control such characters. Dental development starts very early- during infancy (even in the prenatal stage) and early childhood. Once formed, dental features remain unaltered throughout the lifetime of the individual. After eruption only extrinsic lytic processes (primarily, dental caries) or masticatory pressure may affect the enamel layer. Because of its early developmental period, unlike certain other bodily features, dentition is presumed to be controlled more by genetic than environmental factors. These features show variations among different ‘races’ or ethnic groups and are therefore subject to evolutionary modifications due to hybridization, natural selection and genetic drift, thereby making it easy to postulate models of inheritance for an endogamous community more accurately than other bodily features, like somatoscopy or somatometry.

The differences in dental size are largely attributed to occupational and dietary rather than taxonomical differences. Dental features are more subject to selective pressure than physiological features and therefore changes in dental size and form are more gradual than other bodily features. Dental indices, however, are regarded to be of much more relevance in ethnic comparisons than absolute dimensions.

Dental size is also related to the space available in the jaw bones during the crown calcification process. It has been shown that the molar crown area is in direct proportion with the jaw size. The change in subsistence strategies from hunting- gathering to agriculture and an accompanying decrease in work-demand placed on the masticatory apparatus resulted in changes in cranio-facial morphology. Agricultural populations have less robust and smaller jaws than the pre-agricultural populations. The sequence of dental reduction thus appears to be in harmony with the cranio-facial changes experienced during the agricultural transition. Such a dietary selection may have led to the direct competition preceding extinction. There is a decrease in cheek tooth size, thinning of dental enamel, expansion of cranial capacity, and increase in body size. Factors such as these confirm a dietary change, potentially linked with a novel technology, social innovation such as sharing or development of language skills, or both.

The subject of dental anthropology has a wide research potential to understand the nature of biological evolution in response to the ecological, technological and regional context. A comprehensive and anthropologically oriented study of dental morphometry will facilitate any kind of reconstruction of the origins and patterns of migration of the original inhabitants of any soil and to establish biological continuity in the
prehistoric and recent populations of the region. More fascinating is the diversity seen in living populations. The range manifested in the variety of subsistence patterns, food preparation techniques, etc., among westernized urbanities, rural village farmers, nomadic pastoralists, tribal hunter-gatherers is the only one of its kind in the world. The studies on this kind of stratified sample are anthropologically profitable as many of the groups rigidly follow the endogamous practices since ancient times. This helps to secure the genetic capital of such groups. The hypothesis of correlation between tooth size, complexity and technology levels could therefore be thoroughly studied on such prehistoric or living samples. A careful approach in this direction is necessary.