Tooth wear

My previous work, like most studies of dental topography, has focused on unworn tooth shape. However, tooth surface morphology changes over the lifespan of an individual as the enamel crown erodes and dentine is exposed. It is thought that certain dental morphologies may have evolved to best maintain functional shape across a wear sequence. Studying this adaptation provides the potential opportunity to observe the refinement of a functionally selective character across the evolution of a lineage. This requires a group of mammals that seem to have acquired a unique dental morphology related to the maintenance of functional shape across a wear gradient. Tapriomorph perissodactyls may represent just such a lineage, as the modern tapirid members evolved a distinctive, bilophodont tooth morphology from more generalized, bunodont ancestors. As a first step, I have begun to work with faculty from the Center of Excellence in Paleontology at East Tennessee State University to analyze change in functional shape across a wear sequence in the abundant fossil tapirs of the Gray Fossil Site. Future work will examine functional shape change across wear sequences in earlier fossil tapiromorphs.

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