The effect of high wear diets on the relative pulp volume of the lower molars.

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One role of dental pulp is in the upkeep and maintenance of dentine. Under wear, odontoblasts in the pulp deposit tertiary dentine to ensure the sensitive internal dental tissues are not exposed and vulnerable to infection. It follows that there may be an adaptive advantage for increasing molar pulp volume in anthropoid primate taxa that are prone to high levels of wear. The relative volume of dental pulp is therefore predicted to covary with dietary abrasiveness (in the sense of including foods that cause high degrees of wear).

Materials and methods

We examined relatively unworn lower second molars in pairs of species of extant hominoids, cebids, and pitheciids that vary in the abrasiveness of their diet (n = 36). Using micro-CT scans, we measured the percent of tooth that is pulp (PTP) as the ratio of pulp volume to that of the total volume of the tooth.


We found that in each pair of species, the taxa that consume a more abrasive diet had a significantly higher PTP than the closely related taxa that consume a softer diet.


Our results point to an adaptive mechanism in the molars of taxa that consume abrasive diets and are thus subject to higher levels of wear. Our results provide additional understanding of the relationship between dental pulp and diet and may offer insight into the diet of extinct taxa such as Paranthropus boisei or into the adaptive context of the taurodont molars of Neanderthals.





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Selig, Keegan R, Kornelius Kupczik and Mary T Silcox (2021). The effect of high wear diets on the relative pulp volume of the lower molars. American journal of physical anthropology, 174(4). pp. 804–811. 10.1002/ajpa.24242 Retrieved from

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