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Keywords:

  • dental ecology;
  • elastic modulus;
  • hardness;
  • nanoindentation;
  • diet

Abstract

Primate teeth adapt to the physical properties of foods in a variety of ways including changes in occlusal morphology, enamel thickness, and overall size. We conducted a comparative study of extant primates to examine whether their teeth also adapt to foods through variation in the mechanical properties of the enamel. Nanoindentation techniques were used to map profiles of elastic modulus and hardness across tooth sections from the enamel-dentin junction to the outer enamel surface in a broad sample of primates including apes, Old World monkeys, New World monkeys, and lemurs. The measured data profiles feature considerable overlap among species, indicating a high degree of commonality in mechanical properties. These results suggest that differences in the load-bearing capacity of primate molar teeth are more a function of morphology—particularly tooth size and enamel thickness—than of underlying mechanical properties. Am J Phys Anthropol 148:171–177, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.