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The remains of adults present a significant challenge for age-at-death estimation and dental histology provides most of the methods used in forensic studies of teeth. This chapter critically reviews these methods, including: cement annulation, the Gustafson technique, root dentine sclerosis (transparency) and secondary dentine deposition. It ends with a discussion of the forensic context in which these are employed and questions whether or not they are up to the job required of them.
Cement or cementum is at the centre of current research on the estimation of age in adult remains. Like enamel and dentine, it has a layered structure, known as annulation. These annulae or ring-like structures vary between different types of cement, found in different parts of the root, but some show a more regular spacing. Cement is laid down slowly on the surface of the root throughout life and one established idea is that these regular annulae are deposited yearly. This chapter gives a detailed description of cement structure and the evidence this provides for the changes which took place at the root surface during life.
Dentine is variably preserved, as it has a higher organic component and it is generally a more difficult tissue to work with than enamel. This chapter outlines its development and microscopic anatomy, and shows how its rhythmic pattern of development can be used to amplify the chronology built up from an analysis of enamel histology. Dentine too provides evidence for disruptions to this even progress, which can sometimes be matched with those of enamel (although not always). It also shows several changes during adult life and these accumulate to form the basis of age estimation methods. Secondary dentine formation and root dentine sclerosis (or transparency) are reviewed.
Each type of tooth varies considerably in size and shape. Some of these variations can be measured by simple dimensions, whilst others require digitisation of outlines and scans. One well established method is to score different features and variants by eye. This chapter introduces these approaches, compares them and discusses the way in which variation arises during development of the teeth. Differences in body size/shape and tooth size between males and females are pronounced in most primates and the evolution of the much smaller degree of such sexual dimorphism in living humans is a key area of debate. Another focus of research is the reduction in tooth size seen in hominid evolution, together with the evidence that dental morphology provides for the origins and dispersal of modern humans.
Dental tissues, together with dental calculus or tartar which builds up on the tooth surface in life, are mineral/organic composites. This chapter introduces the minerals present in the inorganic component and discusses variation in their chemistry, both through the thickness of tissue and between individual teeth. It goes on to describe the organic component, primarily a mixture of proteins and peptides. One of the main foci of research is in the field of stable isotopes, which have been used to reconstruct past human diet and mobility, dating of remains (and age-at-death for forensic cases) and the history of pollution.
Dental enamel is the most resistant tissue in fossils and archaeological remains. Seen under the microscope, its complex mineral structure preserves a wealth of detailed information about the owner of the teeth. This chapter introduces the biology underlying enamel development and describes its structure in detail, with many images. It explains the daily developmental rhythm which creates this structure and shows how it can be used to reconstruct a chronology of the formation of the tooth crown. This has important applications for establishing the developmental schedule of an individual, and for understanding the variations that lead to a variety of defects in the smooth crown surface (commonly known as enamel hypoplasia). It is also an important method for estimating chronological age in children’s remains.
In living children, teeth develop to a clear schedule which shows only limited differences between boys and girls, populations, diet and disease experience. By contrast, bone development is greatly affected by these factors. This makes dental development and important focus for recording the maturity of an individual represented by human remains. The chapter outlines the large range of different approaches to recording dental development and reviews their results. Dental development is widely used to estimate age-at-death in archaeological remains but the chapter cautions on the applicability of modern clinical standards and on the differences between a chronological age and a developmental stage. The pace of childhood development in living humans is very slow in comparison with non-human primates and the chapter ends with a discussion of the central role that histological studies of dental development in hominid fossils play in understanding this situation.
Anatomy is the foundation of any work in dental anthropology, which starts with the correct identification of teeth. This chapter outlines general anatomical concepts and schemes for the labelling of teeth. Detailed anatomical details are given with sections for deciduous and permanent incisors and canines, permanent premolars, permanent molars and deciduous premolars. They are based on human teeth but make comparisons with living non-human primates and fossil hominids. Problems and confusions in identification are highlighted, including differences between sides, similarities between different teeth, variation in form and the effects of wear. Roots as well as crowns are included, together with the form of the pulp chamber.