Variation in dental occlusion and arches among melanesians of bougainville island, papua New Guinea. I. Methods, age changes, sex differences and population comparisons


  • Richard J. Smith,

    1. Department of Orthodontics University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine, Farmington, Connecticut 06032
    Current affiliation:
    1. Department of Anthropology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520
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  • Howard L. Bailit

    1. Department of Behavioral Sciences and Community Health, University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine, Farmington, Connecticut 06032
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  • Supported by United States Public Health Service grants DE 00136 and DE 03729 from the National Institute of Dental Research, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland. Computer time provided by the University of Connecticut Computer Center.


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.