In vivo and in vitro turnover in dental microwear



Given the potential usefulness of dental microwear analyses in interpretations of archaeological and paleontological material, it is surprising how little we know about changes in individual microwear features through time. The purpose of this study was to document the turnover in primate dental microwear through in vivo dental studies of monkeys raised on different diets, and through in vitro studies of the abrasive effects of monkey chow biscuits on isolated monkey teeth. As in previous studies, epoxy replicas were prepared from dental impressions and examined under a scanning electron microscope.

Results indicate that, under certain conditions, the turnover in primate dental microwear can be on the order of days, hours, or even minutes. Individual microscopic wear features can be obliterated within 24 hours on the molars of laboratory monkeys, and monkey chow biscuits can easily scratch the enamel of isolated monkey teeth. Monkeys raised on a hard diet showed more rapid turnover in dental microwear than monkeys raised on a soft diet. However, paired-sample tests revealed that, for all animals, the molar shearing facets were being abraded at a significantly slower rate than molar crushing/grinding facets.

In light of these results, investigators should make every effort to use large samples in interspecific comparisons of dental microwear involving species with variable diets. Another implication of these results is that changes in dental microwear might be useful indicators of changes in oral behavior over relatively short periods of time.