The accuracy of histological assessments of dental development and age at death

J Anat. 2006 Jan;208(1):125-38. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7580.2006.00500.x.


Histological analyses of dental development have been conducted for several decades despite few studies assessing the accuracy of such methods. Using known-period incremental features, the crown formation time and age at death of five pig-tailed macaques (Macaca nemestrina) were estimated with standard histological techniques and compared with known ages. Estimates of age at death ranged from 8.6% underestimations to 15.0% overestimations, with an average 3.5% overestimate and a 7.2% average absolute difference. Several sources of error were identified relating to preparation quality and section obliquity. These results demonstrate that histological analyses of dental development involving counts and measurements of short- and long-period incremental features may yield accurate estimates, particularly in well-prepared material. Values from oblique sections (or most naturally fractured teeth) should be regarded with caution, as obliquity leads to inflated cuspal enamel formation time and underestimated imbricational formation time. Additionally, Shellis's formula for extension rate and crown formation time estimation was tested, which significantly overestimated crown formation time due to underestimated extension rate. It is suggested that Shellis' method should not be applied to teeth with short, rapid periods of development, and further study is necessary to validate this application in other material.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Determination by Teeth / methods*
  • Animals
  • Death
  • Dental Enamel / growth & development
  • Macaca nemestrina
  • Molar / anatomy & histology
  • Molar / growth & development
  • Tooth / growth & development*