The shape and arrangement of cusps and crests and the orientation of wear striations on the cheek teeth of fossil mammals can be used to reconstruct occlusal patterns. Occlusal patterns have been documented previously in a variety of therian mammals and also in triconodonts and docodonts among nontherians. This is the first detailed analysis of patterns of jaw movement and dental function in a member of the highly specialized nontherian order Multituberculata (Allotheria). Ptilodus, a Paleocene multituberculate, appears to have had two cycles of mastication that followed different paths of movement and utilized different sets of teeth. The first cycle, the slicing-crushing cycle, occurred as the large, laterally-compressed fourth lower premolar (P4) sliced orthally into food items held primarily against the fourth upper premolar (P4). Food items sliced in this manner passed down both the labial and lingual sides of P4, forming subparallel striations in valleys between the nearly vertical enamel ridges. The second cycle is the grinding cycle in which the mandible was retracted while the molars were in tight occlusion, thus producing longitudinal striations on the molars. Unlike the pattern in therians, triconodonts, and docodonts, there is no transversely triangular masticatory orbit in the grinding cycle of multituberculates. The generally accepted idea that the labial aspect of P4 in ptilodontoid multituberculates sheared orthally against the lingual aspect of P4 is not supported. Instead, predominantly horizontal striations developed on the posterolabial wear facet of P4, and on a conjoined facet posterolingually on P4 and anterolingually on the first upper molar (M1), indicate that relative movement between these surfaces was largely palinal (i.e., the jaw moved from front to back), rather than orthal and occurred during the grinding cycle of mastication.
In considering the dietary preferences of ptilodontoid multituberculates, it appears that most members were not folivorous. The small size of many species of Ptilodontoidea suggests that they could not have subsisted on a folivorous diet, which is rich in structural carbohydrates. The length of striations on the sides of P4 of Ptilodus, one of the largest of the Ptilodontoidea, indicates that large, hard food items were ingested. The presence of both smooth and highly-striated enamel on homologous dental wear facets in different individuals of Ptilodus mediaevus from a single quarry sample suggests a varied diet. The recent suggestion that ptilodontoids were omnivorous is supported.