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Dental caries in wild primates: interproximal cavities on anterior teeth

By Ian Towle, Joel D Irish, Kristin Sabbi, Carolina Loch

Posted 01 Jul 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.06.30.450645

Dental caries has been reported in a variety of primates, although is still considered rare in wild populations. In this study, 11 catarrhine primates were studied for the presence of caries. A differential diagnosis of lesions found in interproximal regions of anterior teeth was undertaken, since they had been previously described as both carious and non-carious in origin. Each permanent tooth was examined macroscopically, with severity and position of lesions recorded. Two specimens were micro-CT scanned to assess demineralization. The differential diagnosis confirmed the cariogenic nature of interproximal cavities on anterior teeth (ICAT's). Overall results show 3.3% of teeth are carious, with prevalence varying among species from 0% to over 7% of teeth affected. ICAT's occurred in Pan troglodytes (9.8%), Gorilla gorilla gorilla (2.6%), Cercopithecus denti (22.4%), Presbytis femoralis (19.5%) and Cercopithecus mitis (18.3%). They make up 87.9% of carious lesions on anterior teeth. These results likely reflect dietary and food processing differences among species, but also between the sexes (e.g., 9.3% of teeth of female chimpanzees were carious vs. 1.8% in males). Processing cariogenic fruits and seeds with the anterior dentition (e.g., wadging) likely contributes to ICAT formation. Further research is needed on living populations to ascertain behavioral/dietary influences on caries occurrence in primates. Given the constancy of ICAT's in frugivorous primates, their presence in archaeological and paleontological specimens may shed light on diet and food processing behaviors in fossil primates.

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