Dental findings in wild great apes from macerated skull analysis

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Oral health is a crucial aspect of overall well-being in both humans and nonhuman primates. Understanding the oral pathologies and dental conditions in apes can provide valuable insights into their evolutionary history, dietary habits, and overall health. The present study evaluates dental findings in wild great apes from museum specimens to gain insights into the influence of natural nutrition on dental health. Complete macerated skulls of wild, adult great apes from the collection of the Museum of Natural History, Berlin, Germany, were examined. We analyzed skulls of 53 gorillas (Gorilla gorilla), 63 chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), and 41 orangutans (Pongo spp.). For each skull, we recorded wear of dental hard tissues (Lussi and Ganss index), carious lesions, and periodontal bone loss. Incisal and occlusal dental hard tissue defects were found in all skulls, as well as considerable external staining. In all species, incisors and canines showed the greatest loss of tissue, followed by molars. The wear of molars decreased from the first to the third molars, premolars showed the least pronounced defects. Some individuals had apical osteolytic defects along with severe dental hard tissue loss with pulp involvement or after dental trauma, respectively (n = 5). Our study did not observe any carious lesions among the examined great ape skulls. However, we did find evidence for localized or generalized periodontal bone loss in a subset of the specimens (n = 3 chimpanzees, n = 7 orangutans). The natural diet and foraging behavior of great apes induces abrasion and attrition of dental hard tissue but does not yield carious lesions. The occurrence of periodontitis in individual apes indicates that the natural circumstances can induce periodontal bone loss even in the wild, despite physiological nutrition.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere23581
JournalAmerican journal of primatology
Issue number2
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Dec 2023

External IDs

Scopus 85178484846