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Root grooves on two adjacent anterior teeth of Australopithecus africanus

By Ian Towle, Joel D Irish, Marina Elliott, Isabelle De Groote

Posted 19 Nov 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/222059 (published DOI: 10.1016/j.ijpp.2018.02.004)

Tooth root grooves and other ante-mortem dental tissue loss not associated with caries found on or near the cementoenamel junction (CEJ) are commonly termed non-carious cervical lesions. Three main processes are implicated in forming these lesions: abrasion, dental erosion, and abfraction. As yet, these lesions have not been described in non-Homo hominins. In this study South African fossil hominin collections were examined for evidence of any type of non-carious cervical lesion. Only one individual shows ante-mortem root grooves consistent with non-carious cervical lesions. Two teeth, a mandibular right permanent lateral incisor (STW 270) and canine (STW 213), belonging to the same Australopithecus africanus individual, show clear ante-mortem grooves on the labial root surface. These lesions start below the CEJ, extend over a third of the way toward the apex, and taper to a point towards the lingual side. Microscopic examination revealed no clear directional striations. The shape of these grooves is extremely similar to clinical examples of dental erosion, with the lack of striations supporting this diagnosis. These are the oldest hominin examples of non-carious cervical lesions and first described in a genus other than Homo; further, the lesions suggest that this individual regularly consumed or processed acidic food items.

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