Resorption of mandibular alveolar bone following loss of molar teeth and its relationship to age at death in a human skeletal population



Estimating adult age at death in skeletal remains is problematic, particularly in older adults. Molar wear is arguably the most reliable ageing technique for palaeopopulations, but many older adult skeletons have lost their molar teeth ante mortem, precluding its application. Resorption of the alveolar process occurs following tooth loss, and this appears to continue for a prolonged period. The current work investigates the relationship of this process to individual age in a nineteenth century AD European archaeological skeletal series of known age at death (N = 92 individuals), and discusses its potential as an age indicator. Mandibular corpus height was measured at the different molar positions. In females, reduction of corpus height with age was found at molar positions showing ante mortem loss. In both sexes, a relationship was found between age and a simple composite measure of corpus height in the molar region in those showing ante mortem loss of one or more mandibular molars. The correlation was stronger in females (r = −0.74) than in males (r = −0.49), appeared approximately linear, and continued into the ninth decade, the oldest age group in the study material. The results suggest that investigation of height of the posterior part of the mandibular corpus as a skeletal age indicator for individuals that have lost one or more molar teeth is merited in other palaeopopulations. Am J Phys Anthropol 153:643–652, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.