Relative tooth size at birth in primates: Life history correlates

Timothy D. Smith, Magdalena N. Muchlinski, Wade R. Bucher, Christopher J. Vinyard, Christopher J. Bonar, Sian Evans, Lawrence E. Williams, Valerie B. DeLeon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Objectives: Dental eruption schedules have been closely linked to life history variables. Here we examine a sample of 50 perinatal primates (28 species) to determine whether life history traits correlate with relative tooth size at birth. Materials and methods: Newborn primates were studied using serial histological sectioning. Volumes of deciduous premolars (dp2–dp4), replacement teeth (if any), and permanent molars (M1–2/3) of the upper jaw were measured and residuals from cranial length were calculated with least squares regressions to obtain relative dental volumes (RDVs). Results: Relative dental volumes of deciduous or permanent teeth have an unclear relationship with relative neonatal mass in all primates. Relative palatal length (RPL), used as a proxy for midfacial size, is significantly, positively correlated with larger deciduous and permanent postcanine teeth. However, when strepsirrhines alone are examined, larger RPL is correlated with smaller RDV of permanent teeth. In the full sample, RDVs of deciduous premolars are significantly negatively correlated with relative gestation length (RGL), but have no clear relationship with relative weaning age. RDVs of molars lack a clear relationship with RGL; later weaning is associated with larger molar RDV, although correlations are not significant. When strepsirrhines alone are analyzed, clearer trends are present: longer gestations or later weaning are associated with smaller deciduous and larger permanent postcanine teeth (only gestational length correlations are significant). Discussion: Our results indicate a broad trend that primates with the shortest RGLs precociously develop deciduous teeth; in strepsirrhines, the opposite trend is seen for permanent molars. Anthropoids delay growth of permanent teeth, while strepsirrhines with short RGLs are growing replacement teeth concurrently. A comparison of neonatal volumes with existing information on extent of cusp mineralization indicates that growth of tooth germs and cusp mineralization may be selected for independently.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)623-634
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • anthropoid
  • dental
  • growth
  • odontogenesis


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