Unraveling the Life History of Past Populations through Hypercementosis: Insights into Cementum Apposition Patterns and Possible Etiologies Using Micro-CT and Confocal Microscopy

Léa Massé, Emmanuel d’Incau, Antoine Souron, Nicolas Vanderesse, Frédéric Santos, Bruno Maureille, Adeline Le Cabec
Biology. 2024-01-13; 13(1): 43
DOI: 10.3390/biology13010043

The “teeth-as-tools” hypothesis posits that Neanderthals used their anterior teeth as a tool or a third hand for non-dietary purposes. These non- or para-masticatory activities (e.g., tool-making or food preparation prior to ingestion) have also been described in other past and extant human populations, and other Primates. Cementum is the mineralized tissue that covers the tooth root surface and anchors it to the alveolar bone. Under certain conditions (e.g., mechanical stress, infection), its production becomes excessive (i.e., beyond the physiological state) and is called ‘hypercementosis’. Several studies in dental anthropology have established a correlation between the teeth-as-tools and hypercementosis. The present work aims to characterize the different patterns of cementum apposition on archeological teeth and discuss their supposed etiology. Using microtomography and confocal microscopy, the patterns of cementum apposition (i.e., thickness, location, and surface characteristics) were analyzed in 35 hypercementotic teeth (Sains-en-Gohelle, France; 7th–17th c. A.D.). Four groups were identified with distinct hypercementosis patterns: (1) impacted, (2) infected, (3) hypofunctional, and (4) hyperfunctional teeth. Characterizing hypercementosis can contribute to documenting the oral health status (paleopathology) and/or masticatory activity of individuals, even from isolated teeth. This has implications for the study of fossil hominins, particularly Neanderthals, known for their use of anterior teeth as tools and frequent and substantial occurrence of hypercementosis.

Auteurs Bordeaux Neurocampus