In populations living in environments where teeth wear severely, some compensatory modification of the dentoalveolar complex is thought to occur during life whereby functional occlusion is maintained as tooth substance is lost by wear. This study investigates one aspect of this modification process: Changes in the anterior dentoalveolar complex that are accompanied with wear were examined in a series of Japanese skeletal samples. In the prehistoric Japanese hunter-gatherer population heavy wear occurs over the entire dentition. The following changes were demonstrated to have occurred in the anterior segment of the dentition accompanied by wear on the anterior teeth: The anterior teeth tip lingually with wear up to a nearly upright position to fill in interproximal spaces that would have been generated by wear, and to maintain contact relations between adjacent teeth. At the same time, the anterior surface of the maxillary alveolar process also inclines lingually to a certain extent. The amount of lingual tipping is greater in the maxillary anterior teeth than in their mandibular antagonists. It is because of this discrepancy that, with age, the horizontal component of the overlap between maxillary and mandibular anterior teeth decreases, and their bite form changes from scissor bite to edge-to-edge bite. Lesser degrees of lingual tipping of the anterior teeth were also detected in the prehistoric agriculturists and historic Japanese populations. The variation in the degree of lingual tipping observed among the samples is explained by inter-population variation in severity and pattern of tooth wear. This and other evidence suggests that mechanisms that compensate for wear in the anterior dentition may be characteristic of all living human populations, independently of the degree of wear severity endured in their environments.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.