Dental wear, wear rate, and dental disease in the African apes


  • Alison A. Elgart

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biological Sciences, Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers, Florida
    • Department of Biological Sciences, Florida Gulf Coast University, 10501 FGCU Blvd. South, Fort Myers, FL 33965
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The African apes possess thinner enamel than do other hominoids, and a certain amount of dentin exposure may be advantageous in the processing of tough diets eaten by Gorilla. Dental wear (attrition plus abrasion) that erodes the enamel exposes the underlying dentin and creates additional cutting edges at the dentin-enamel junction. Hypothetically, efficiency of food processing increases with junction formation until an optimal amount is reached, but excessive wear hinders efficient food processing and may lead to sickness, reduced fecundity, and death. Occlusal surfaces of molars and incisors in three populations each of Gorilla and Pan were videotaped and digitized. The quantity of incisal and molar occlusal dental wear and the lengths of dentin–enamel junctions were measured in 220 adult and 31 juvenile gorilla and chimpanzee skulls. Rates of dental wear were calculated in juveniles by scoring the degree of wear between adjacent molars M1 and M2. Differences were compared by principal (major) axis analysis. ANOVAs compared means of wear amounts. Pearson correlation coefficients were calculated to compare the relationship between molar wear and incidence of dental disease.

Results indicate that quantities of wear are significantly greater in permanent incisors and molars and juvenile molars of gorillas compared to chimpanzees. The lengths of dentin–enamel junctions were predominantly suboptimal. Western lowland gorillas have the highest quantities of wear and the most molars with suboptimal wear. The highest rates of wear are seen in Pan paniscus and Pan t. troglodytes, and the lowest rates are found in P.t. schweinfurthii and G. g. graueri. Among gorillas, G. b. beringei have the highest rates but low amounts of wear. Coefficients between wear and dental disease were low, but significant when all teeth were combined. Gorilla teeth are durable, and wear does not lead to mechanical senescence in this sample. Am. J. Primatol. 72:481–491, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.