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Keywords:

  • antemortem tooth loss;
  • molar functional units;
  • osteometric;
  • mandible;
  • Wharram Percy

The purpose of the study is to investigate the link between number of molar teeth retained in occlusion and mandibular morphology in adults in an ancient, high dental wear human population. The study material comprises skeletons from Mediaeval Wharram Percy, England (N = 50 female, 69 male adults). It was hypothesized that adults retaining fewer occluding molars would show reduction in mandibular dimensions, particularly in the ascending ramus and gonial regions where the main muscles of mastication have their insertions. Molar occlusal status is assessed using the concept of functional units. Mandibular morphology is assessed using a suite of ten linear measurements plus the mandibular angle. Results show no evidence for any association between number of molars retained in occlusion and mandibular angle. There was an association between mandibular size and number of molars retained in occlusion, with smaller mandibular dimensions in those retaining fewer occluding molars. Some measurements were affected more than others so that there was also some shape alteration. Alteration of mandibular dimensions was more clearly demonstrable in females than in males. Only in females could significant reduction in the ascending ramus and gonial regions be demonstrated. Reasons for the apparent difference in response to loss of molar occlusion between male and female mandibles are unclear, but sex differences in bony metabolism mediated by hormonal factors may be implicated. Results suggest that care should be exercised when including mandibles from individuals showing loss of molar occlusion in morphological studies. Am J Phys Anthropol 152:383–392, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.