Morphological variation related to differential loading is well known for many craniomandibular elements. Yet, the function of the hard palate, and in particular the manner in which cortical and trabecular bone of the palate respond to masticatory loads, remains more ambiguous. Here, experimental data are presented that address the naturalistic influence of biomechanical loading on the postweaning development and structure of the hard palate. A rabbit model was used to test the hypothesis that variation in the morphology of the hard palate is linked to variation in masticatory stresses. Rabbit siblings were divided as weanlings into soft and hard/tough dietary treatment groups of 10 subjects each and were raised for 15 weeks until subadulthood. MicroCT analyses indicate that rabbits subjected to elevated masticatory loading developed hard palates with significantly greater bone area, greater cortical bone thickness along the oral lamina, and thicker anterior palates. Such diet-induced levels of palatal plasticity are comparable to those for other masticatory elements, which likely reflect osteogenic responses for maintaining the functional integrity of the palate vis-à-vis elevated stresses during unilateral mastication. These data support a role for mechanical loading in the determination of palatal morphology, especially its internal structure, in living and fossil mammals such as the hominin Paranthropus. Furthermore, these findings have potential implications for the evolution of the mammalian secondary hard palate as well as for clinical considerations of human oral pathologies.
- Dietary properties
- Masticatory stresses/loads