Dental microwear has been examined on the molar teeth and
incisors of a wide variety of primates and other animals.
Patterns of dental microwear on mammalian molar teeth reflect
the material properties of food items eaten.
For example, heavily pitted molar surfaces typically suggest
a diet consisting of harder, more brittle food items (such
as hard seeds, nuts or bone). In contrast, a heavily scratched
shearing facet on a molar tooth usually indicates that that
tooth was used to shear tough food items (such as leaves or
meat). Intermediate patterns indicate mixed diets, or diets
with intermediate food properties (such as soft fruits). Patterns
of dental microwear on the incisors indicate the importance
of anterior tooth use in food processing.
This graph shows ratios of pits to scratches on Phase II
molar wear surfaces of numerous living primate species using
data from Teaford (1988). Taxa to the far left, such as Lophocebus
(Cercopithecus) albigena and Cebus apella eat
lots of hard nuts and seeds and have many more pits than scratches
on their molar teeth. In contrast, primates that eat many
tough items, such as Gorilla gorilla, Colobus guereza
and Alouatta palliata have many more scratches than
pits. Soft-fruit eaters, such as Pan troglodytes
and Cebus olivaceus have intermediate ratios of pits
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