Senior Thesis Abstract (Di Paola)


Dental Attrition and the Third Molar

David S. Di Paola

Sub-field: Physical Anthropology

Advisor: Janet Monge, Physical Anthropologist, Department of Anthropology

The third molars, or the 'wisdom teeth' as they are known commonly, are a set of teeth that develop and descend later in a human's life. Third molars are not exclusive to present-day humans. They are found in almost all anatomically modern humans, with some exceptions, including those from times well before any form of dental care is known to have existed. This leads to the main question addressed within this paper: What differences between ancient humans and modern humans may have allowed ancient humans to readily accept the third molar into their dentition, as compared to the issues faced by modern humans? The main theory analyzed here will be the proposed idea that dental attrition in ancient humans would have provided room to allow the third molar to grow in relatively pain-free. In this project, I analyzed 50 skulls (a combination of maxilla and mandibles) from a combination of the Tepe-Hissar Collection (representing an 'ancient' population), the Morton Collection, and a handful of others (representing a 'modern' population), measuring values of length, width, tooth spacing, toot diameter, attrition, and presence of third molars. Through this comparative study, it was determined that there is strong evidence for higher attrition in the Tepe-Hissar skulls, and a far lower percentage of complications involving third molars in skulls that had third molars in Tepe-Hissar, 32.14%, then in the Morton, 57.14%, or the others, 75%. This shows that there may indeed be an inverse relation with dental attrition and third molar-related incidents.

Return to Thesis Examples