Beyond Description: The Many Facets of Dental Biomechanics

S. B. Crofts, S. M. Smith, P. S.L. Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Teeth lie at the interface between an animal and its environment and, with some exceptions, act as a major component of resource procurement through food acquisition and processing. Therefore, the shape of a tooth is closely tied to the type of food being eaten. This tight relationship is of use to biologists describing the natural history of species and given the high instance of tooth preservation in the fossil record, is especially useful for paleontologists. However, correlating gross tooth morphology to diet is only part of the story, and much more can be learned through the study of dental biomechanics. We can explore the mechanics of how teeth work, how different shapes evolved, and the underlying forces that constrain tooth shape. This review aims to provide an overview of the research on dental biomechanics, in both mammalian and non-mammalian teeth, and to synthesize two main approaches to dental biomechanics to develop an integrative framework for classifying and evaluating dental functional morphology. This framework relates food material properties to the dynamics of food processing, in particular how teeth transfer energy to food items, and how these mechanical considerations may have shaped the evolution of tooth morphology. We also review advances in technology and new techniques that have allowed more in-depth studies of tooth form and function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)594-607
Number of pages14
JournalIntegrative and comparative biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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