Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 May 2013
Development of the human dentition, a complex, self-organising system, is underpinned by a series of reiterative steps involving a number of key gene pathways, supplemented by smaller influences of a polygenic background. Modelling familial data of dental phenotypes can help to unravel genetic and environmental influences. This paper presents a review of a number of model-based approaches that can be useful analytically, with a focus on twins as the familial structure to elaborate genetic complexity. Genetic modelling is methodologically robust, and provides a framework within which to locate evidence of gene effects from modern, high-throughput genotyping approaches. The twin family structure is particularly well-suited to this approach, and provides a number of distinct advantages analytically, particularly in the presence of population stratification.
The human dentition is of significant anthropological interest when considering variation within and between modern populations. It is also a useful tool for examining evolutionary change over time in response to changes in culture, diet, etc. Teeth provide a (relatively) stable indirect source of information about processes occurring during pre- and early post-natal development. They are also one of the most stable sources of information in the fossil record, both morphologically, and as a repository of ancient DNA sequence information (Adler et al., 2010). Furthermore, variation in tooth form and function can provide opportunities for examining inter-individual variation as a means for forensic identification.