Dentition | Dental formula |Tooth naming discrepancies

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Dentition | Dental formula |Tooth naming discrepancies:  pertains to the development of teeth and their arrangement in the mouth. In particular, it is the characteristic arrangement, kind, and number of teeth in a given species at a given age.

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That is the number, type, and morpho-physiology (that is, the relationship between the shape and form of the tooth in question and its inferred function) of the teeth of an animal.

Animals whose teeth are all of the same type, such as most non-mammalian vertebrates, are said to have homodont dentition, whereas those whose teeth differ morphologically are said to have heterodont dentition.



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The dentition of animals with two successions of teeth (deciduous, permanent) is referred to as diphyodont, while the dentition of animals with only one set of teeth throughout life is monophyodont.

The dentition of animals in which the teeth are continuously discarded and replaced throughout life is termed polyphyodont. The dentition of animals in which the teeth are set in sockets in the jawbones is termed thecodont.

Dental formula

Because every mammal’s teeth are specialised for different functions, many mammal groups have lost teeth not needed in their adaptation. Tooth form has also undergone evolutionary modification as a result of natural selection for specialised feeding or other adaptations.

Over time, different mammal groups have evolved distinct dental features, both in the number and type of teeth and in the shape and size of the chewing surface.

The number of teeth of each type is written as a dental formula for one side of the mouth, or quadrant, with the upper and lower teeth shown on separate rows. The number of teeth in a mouth is twice that listed as there are two sides.

In each set, incisors (I) are indicated first, canines (C) second, premolars (P) third, and finally molars (M), giving I:C:P:M. So for example, the formula 2.1.2.3 for upper teeth indicates 2 incisors, 1 canine, 2 premolars, and 3 molars on one side of the upper mouth. The deciduous dental formula is notated in lowercase lettering preceded by the letter d: for example: di:dc:dp.

An animal’s dentition for either deciduous or permanent teeth can thus be expressed as a dental formula, written in the form of a fraction, which can be written as I.C.P.MI.C.P.M, or I.C.P.M / I.C.P.M. For example, the following formulae show the deciduous and usual permanent dentition of all catarrhine primates, including humans:

  1. Deciduous: This can also be written as di2.dc1.dm2di2.dc1.dm2. Superscript and subscript denote upper and lower jaw, i.e. do not indicate mathematical operations; the numbers are the count of the teeth of each type. The dashes (-) in the formula are likewise not mathematical operators, but spacers, meaning “to”: for instance, the human formula is 2.1.2.2-32.1.2.2-3 meaning that people may have 2 or 3 molars on each side of each jaw. ‘d’ denotes deciduous teeth (i.e. milk or baby teeth); lower case also indicates temporary teeth. Another annotation is 2.1.0.22.1.0.2, if the fact that it pertains to deciduous teeth is clearly stated, per examples found in some texts such as The Cambridge Dictionary of Human Biology and Evolution
  2. Permanent: This can also be written as 2.1.2.32.1.2.3. When the upper and lower dental formulae are the same, some texts write the formula without a fraction (in this case, 2.1.2.3), on the implicit assumption that the reader will realize it must apply to both upper and lower quadrants. This is seen for example throughout The Cambridge Dictionary of Human Biology and Evolution.

The greatest number of teeth in any known placental land mammal[specify was 48, with a formula of 3.1.5.33.1.5.3. However, no living placental mammal has this number. In extant placental mammals, the maximum dental formula is 3.1.4.33.1.4.3 for pigs. Mammalian tooth counts are usually identical in the upper and lower jaws, but not always. For example, the aye-aye has a formula of 1.0.1.31.0.0.3, demonstrating the need for both upper and lower quadrant counts.

Tooth naming discrepancies

Teeth are numbered starting at 1 in each group. Thus the human teeth are I1, I2, C1, P3, P4, M1, M2, and M3. (See next paragraph for premolar naming etymology.) In humans, the third molar is known as the wisdom tooth, whether or not it has erupted.

Regarding premolars, there is disagreement regarding whether the third type of deciduous tooth is a premolar (the general consensus among mammalogists) or a molar (commonly held among human anatomists). There is thus some discrepancy between nomenclature in zoology and in dentistry.

This is because the terms of human dentistry, which have generally prevailed over time, have not included mammalian dental evolutionary theory. There were originally four premolars in each quadrant of early mammalian jaws. However, all living primates have lost at least the first premolar.

“Hence most of the prosimians and platyrrhines have three premolars. Some genera have also lost more than one. A second premolar has been lost in all catarrhines. The remaining permanent premolars are then properly identified as P2, P3 and P4 or P3 and P4; however, traditional dentistry refers to them as P1 and P2”.

Dental eruption sequence

The order in which teeth emerge through the gums is known as the dental eruption sequence. Rapidly developing anthropoid primates such as macaques, chimpanzees, and australopithecines have an eruption sequence of M1 I1 I2 M2 P3 P4 C M3, whereas anatomically modern humans have the sequence M1 I1 I2 C P3 P4 M2 M3.

The later that tooth emergence begins, the earlier the anterior teeth (I1–P4) appear in the sequence.

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