Intrapopulation variation in macro tooth wear patterns--a case study from Igloolik, Canada

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2012 Dec;149(4):517-24. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.22153. Epub 2012 Nov 2.


The pattern of human tooth wear-the way it varies between teeth in the mouth-is crucial to our understanding of important questions in archeology and paleoanthropology, such as the contrasts in diet and behavior between Neanderthals and early modern humans in Europe and Asia, or with the adoption of agriculture in the Americas. Little is known, however, about the way in which wear patterns develop with increasing age or the way in which they differ between males and females. One explanation is that few living people show the high rates of tooth wear seen worldwide throughout the preindustrial archaeological record. The study described here investigates the macroscopic pattern of tooth wear in a unique group of known age and sex dental casts from living Canadian Inuit from Igloolik. The results show that the Igloolik people possessed a pattern of extremely heavy anterior tooth wear, relative to the first molar and the other posterior teeth, which is attributed to the use of the anterior teeth in cultural practices as well as the extreme and marginal environments in which they lived. Heavy anterior tooth wear was established at an early age and maintained throughout life; statistically significant differences were found between the wear patterns of males and females and are explained in terms of sexual division of labor within the community. This study highlights the need to understand both intra- and interpopulation variation in tooth wear patterns when interpreting patterns in past human groups.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anthropology, Physical
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inuits / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Tooth / pathology*
  • Tooth Wear / epidemiology*
  • Tooth Wear / ethnology*
  • Tooth Wear / pathology