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Deciduous Dental Phenotypes and Biodistance Analyses

X-ray of mouth with deciduous and permanent teeth

This project conducts research exploring the genetic underpinnings of the human deciduous dentition (i.e., “baby teeth” in children < 10 years of age) and developing methods for identifying child relatives using teeth alone.

Teeth are the most durable parts of the human body and provide information on a number of aspects of an individual’s life, such as their diet, their physical health and their movement across the landscape. Teeth also record information on genetic relatedness, which makes them useful for research on human population relationships and for forensic identification of missing persons or accident/crime victims.

Importantly, because teeth preserve in the archaeological record, the same types of information can be reconstructed for people living today as well as those who lived in the past.

This project involves bioarchaeology doctoral student Kathleen Paul – under the supervision of associate professor Christopher Stojanowski – conducting research exploring the genetic underpinnings of the human deciduous dentition (i.e., “baby teeth” in children < 10 years of age) and developing methods for identifying child relatives using teeth alone.

The project’s primary rationale is to explore the dynamics of human social groups in the past. However, the results will also offer benefits to society by improving forensic efforts to identify missing children and by providing information on dental inheritance that impacts the practice of clinical dentistry and orthodontics. Finally, this project will produce resources for education and training by refining data collection standards, which will help satisfy requirements of forensic evidence admissibility by improving error rates through trait standardization.

Teeth provide important data on evolutionary relationships at multiple scales of analysis, including the crucial, but often overlooked, phase of childhood.

This project examines the genetic structure of the deciduous dentition and has three goals:

  1. to analyze the developmental program underlying deciduous dental phenotypes, 
  2. to evaluate the performance of deciduous dental phenotypes for accurately reconstructing known genealogical relationships, and 
  3. to compare the performance of deciduous versus permanent dental phenotypes for reconstructing known genealogical relationships. 

Data on tooth size and morphology will be collected from deciduous and permanent tooth crowns on dental casts representing individuals of known pedigree. Biological distances generated from deciduous dental data will be compared to known genetic distances between individuals to determine how deciduous traits can be used to accurately reconstruct genealogies. These biological distances will also be compared to those generated from permanent dental phenotypes as well as "environmental distances" generated from health history data to examine potential developmental and environmental factors that affect crown morphology.

Funding Source:
National Science Foundation 

Kathleen Paul, Arizona State University School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Christopher Stojanowski, Arizona State University School of Human Evolution and Social Change