Individual tooth macrowear pattern guides the reconstruction of Sts 52 (Australopithecus africanus) dental arches



The functional restoration of the occlusal relationship between maxillary and mandibular tooth rows is a major challenge in modern dentistry and maxillofacial surgery. Similar technical challenges are present in paleoanthropology when considering fragmented and deformed mandibular and maxillary fossils. Sts 52, an Australopithecus africanus specimen from Sterkfontein Member 4, represents a typical case where the original shape of the dental arches is no longer preserved. It includes a partial lower face (Sts 52a) and a fragmented mandible (Sts 52b), both incomplete and damaged to such an extent to thwart attempts at matching upper and lower dentitions. We show how the preserved macrowear pattern of the tooth crowns can be used to functionally reconstruct Sts 52's dental arches. High-resolutiondental stone casts of Sts 52 maxillary and mandibular dentition were mounted and repositioned in a dental articulator. The occlusal relationship between antagonists was restored based on the analysis of the occlusal wear pattern of each preserved tooth, considering all dental contact movements represented in the occlusal compass. The reconstructed dental arches were three-dimensional surface scanned and their occlusal kinematics tested in a simulation. The outcome of this contribution is the first functional restoration of A. africanus dental arches providing new morphometric data for specimen Sts 52. It is noteworthy that the method described in this case study might be applied to several other fossilspecimens. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.