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Dimensional variation of craniofacial structures in relation to changing masticatory-functional demands

Juha Varrela
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ejo/14.1.31 31-36 First published online: 1 February 1992


A reduction in masticatory stress has been an important factor in the evolution of the human skull. Similarly, the recent increase in the occlusal variation has been related to a change in masticatory activity. The present study investigates short-term variation in craniofacial dimensions by examining cephalometrically two Finnish samples, one exposed to a hard and the other to a soft diet. The samples comprised 32 skulls, derived from the 16th and 17th centuries, and 50 living individuals.

Out of 18 dimensions measured, 12 showed only non-significant differences between the samples. In the present-day sample, the cranial length and the anterior cranial base were significantly longer, and the upper incisors segment significantly higher. In the skull sample, the posterior facial height, the height of the mandibular ramus, and the antero-posterior width of the pharynx were significantly larger.

The results suggest that hard diet, which requires more chewing force and time, promotes vertical growth of the ramus and anterior translocation of the maxilla. The greater posterior face height and greater height of ramus are in accordance with the earlier finding that the mandible shows more anterior growth rotation in an attritive environment. These findings support the hypothesis that the growth of the craniofacial skeleton is regulated by masticatory stress. It is suggested that both the dimensional changes and the lack of dental attrition may have contributed to the higher occlusal variation of modern individuals.

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