Tooth wear: the view of the anthropologist

Clin Oral Investig. 2008 Mar;12 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S21-6. doi: 10.1007/s00784-007-0154-8. Epub 2007 Oct 16.


Anthropologists have for many years considered human tooth wear a normal physiological phenomenon where teeth, although worn, remain functional throughout life. Wear was considered pathological only if pulpal exposure or premature tooth loss occurred. In addition, adaptive changes to the stomatognathic system in response to wear have been reported including continual eruption, the widening of the masticatory cycle, remodelling of the temporomandibular joint and the shortening of the dental arches from tooth migration. Comparative studies of many different species have also documented these physiological processes supporting the idea of perpetual change over time. In particular, differential wear between enamel and dentine was considered a physiological process relating to the evolution of the form and function of teeth. Although evidence of attrition and abrasion has been known to exist among hunter-gatherer populations for many thousands of years, the prevalence of erosion in such early populations seems insignificant. In particular, non-carious cervical lesions to date have not been observed within these populations and therefore should be viewed as 'modern-day' pathology. Extrapolating this anthropological perspective to the clinical setting has merits, particularly in the prevention of pre-mature unnecessary treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Humans
  • Odontometry*
  • Tooth Abrasion / classification*
  • Tooth Abrasion / diagnosis
  • Tooth Attrition / classification*
  • Tooth Attrition / diagnosis
  • Tooth Erosion / classification*
  • Tooth Erosion / diagnosis