The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

The effects of dietary hardness on occlusal variation and the masticatory apparatus of savanna baboons


1Department of Anthropology, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, 2Department of Anatomy, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine

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Variation in dental occlusion and craniofacial shape is the result of a multitude of environmental and genetic factors. Although environmental and genetic variables are often difficult to disentangle, previous research into environmental correlates has documented a relationship between masticatory stress and maxillofacial-dental development (e.g., Corruccini 1999; Larsson et al. 2005). These studies indicate that variation in dental occlusion and maxillofacial development correspond with variation in dietary consistency experienced during ontogeny. This study expands upon previous research by examining the relationship between diet and craniofacial development among two groups of savanna baboons. Here, a number of craniofacial measurements and dental occlusion scores are compared between a captive, soft-diet experiment (SDE) group (n=24) and a sample of wild-captured savanna baboons who ate natural, harder diets (n=19).

Univariate, bivariate, and multivariate statistical procedures were used to examine differences in occlusion and absolute and relative size between the two samples. The results indicate significant differences in craniofacial development and occlusion between savanna baboons reared on soft diets and those who experienced normal dietary conditions in the wild. Paramount among these differences was significantly shorter palates in the SDE group. These results provide further evidence that the biomechanical stresses associated with chewing have a measurable effect on the growth and development of the masticatory apparatus leading to variation in occlusion and craniofacial development between individuals experiencing long term variation in dietary consistency. The findings reported here have implications for the interpretation of both anthropological and clinical data.

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