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Problems and pitfalls in the diagnosis of linear enamel hypoplasia in cheek teeth of cattle

Journal of Archaeological Science
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2006.03.001
  • Cattle
  • Teeth
  • Coronal Cementum
  • Enamel Hypoplasia
  • Differential Diagnosis
  • Histology
  • Biology
  • Medicine


Abstract Prevalence and intensity of enamel hypoplasia have been used as markers of generalized physiological stress during dental development in a wide range of mammalian taxa. We studied cattle ( Bos taurus) cheek teeth exhibiting morphological characteristics that are of relevance to the diagnosis of enamel hypoplasia in this and other bovid species. These characteristics were multiple, more or less horizontally arranged (waveform) lines or grooves in the cementum of the tooth crown and the adjacent root area, leading to an imbricated appearance of the cementum. On macroscopic examination of tooth surfaces, these lines resembled linear enamel hypoplasia (LEH). Microscopic analysis of tooth sections, however, revealed that the lines occurred in the cementum only, and that the underlying enamel did not exhibit morphological irregularities. In cheek teeth of older cattle, a thick cementum layer is regularly found in the cervical crown portion and the adjacent root area. Apposition of this cementum is related to the uplifting of the teeth from their alveoli, a process that compensates for the shortening of the tooth crowns due to occlusal wear. In the studied specimens, a pronounced periodic nature of tooth uplifting and the related deposition of cementum is the likely cause for the observed imbricated appearance of the cementum. While this phenomenon may be misinterpreted as representing a case of LEH, presence of enamel hypoplasia in bovid teeth may be overlooked when the defects become filled with coronal cementum and are therefore not apparent on external inspection. This was the case in one of the cattle teeth analyzed by us, in which the hypoplastic enamel defects were, however, clearly discernible in ground sections. Microscopic analysis of tooth sections is recommended for recording of LEH in bovid teeth in cases where macroscopic examination of tooth surfaces alone does not produce unequivocal results.

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