The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Antemortem tooth loss, tooth wear, and dental trauma: Learning more from the Gombe chimpanzees


Cell Biology and Anatomy, University of North Texas Health Science Center

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Tooth wear is a function of both age and diet. Among the Gombe chimpanzees, tooth wear has been considered the primary cause for periodontal disease, abscess formation, and antemortem tooth loss (Kilgore, 1989); I examine the possibility that factors other than tooth wear may influence antemortem tooth loss in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes).

Antemortem tooth loss is of interest for assessing health status in terms of nutritional and other health consequences (e.g. systemic spread of an infection that caused an abscess). From a theoretical standpoint, antemortem tooth loss is significant because of its possible implications for conspecific care and interpreting the evolutionary role of senescence.

I expand Kilgore’s (1989) study of 10 chimpanzees from Gombe National Park, Tanzania, to include 23 adult chimpanzees (10 males, 13 females) and compare tooth wear and antemortem tooth loss patterns to 99 adult chimpanzee skulls (25 males, 74 females) from the Powell-Cotton Museum (Birchington, Kent, UK). Both samples show that while severe tooth wear (Kilgore’s stages 6-8) is correlated with antemortem tooth loss, the correlation is weak, indicating that tooth wear is not the only factor that influences antemortem tooth loss. Case studies from Gombe clearly demonstrate that trauma may play an important role in antemortem tooth loss for chimpanzees. Trauma may result from mastication, falls, or conspecific violence.

This project was possible thanks to funding from the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy at the University of North Texas Health Science Center and the University of Minnesota Thesis Research Grant.

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