Population studies of malocclusion lack comparability because of the subjective criteria employed in the definition of malocclusion. Alternatively, individual characteristics of occlusion can be quantified and compared within and between populations. Measurements were taken from the dental cases of 319 male an 359 female Melanesians from Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. The cross-sectional age changes from 12 to 68 years of age included an increase in intermolar arch width, a decrease in arch length and intercanine arch width, and increased crowding and malalignment. Neither age nor sex accounted for a large proportion of the differences among individuals. When compared to industrialized groups, the Bougainville population had a slight reduction in variance for most characteristics. Only the sagittal molar relationship was markedly less variable on Bougainville. The results emphasize that a quantitative evaluation of individual occlusal variables may reveal differences within and between populations not detected when simple malocclusion frequencies are reported.