Fluctuating dental asymmetry: Variation among skeletal populations



Recent investigations have shown that nongenetic, environmental factors can adversely affect dental growth and produce bilateral asymmetries in tooth size. When asymmetries do not favor either side, i.e., absence of directional asymmetry, the condition is termed fluctuating asymmetry.

Fluctuating asymmetry of the mesiodistal and buccolingual dimensions of the total permanent dentition was compared among human skeletal populations which differ socio-economically and nutritionally. Odontometric data were collected from prehistoric hunters (Indian Knoll site), later aboriginal farming groups (Campbell and Larson sites), and a modern cadaver population (Hamann-Todd). The magnitude of asymmetry is expressed by the familiar correlation coefficient, r. The proportion, then, of intra-individual variation due to fluctuating asymmetry is equal to 1-r.

With Wilcoxon's signed ranks test on the correlation coefficients no significant sex difference was shown within populations. Among groups, though, Indian Knoll was the most odontometrically asymmetrical; moreover, within Indian Knoll, the taller and ostensibly better nourished individuals had larger, less asymmetrical teeth than the shorter individuals. These results suggest that environmentally mediated growth disturbance may be sensitively reflected by dental asymmetry. A population exhibiting other signs of severe growth disturbance, e.g., enamel hypoplasia and Harris lines, was the most dentally asymmetrical.