An Enigmatic Hypoplastic Defect of the Maxillary Lateral Incisor in Recent and Fossil Orangutans from Sumatra (Pongo abelii) and Borneo (Pongo pygmaeus)

Mark F. Skinner, Matthew M. Skinner, Varsha C. Pilbrow, Darcy Hannibal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Developmental dental pathologies provide insight into health of primates during ontogeny, and are particularly useful for elucidating the environment in which extant and extinct primates matured. Our aim is to evaluate whether the prevalence of an unusual dental defect on the mesiolabial enamel of the upper lateral incisor, thought to reflect dental crowding during maturation, is lesser in female orangutans, with their smaller teeth, than in males; and in Sumatran orangutans, from more optimal developmental habitats, than in those from Borneo. Our sample includes 49 Pongo pygmaeus (87 teeth), 21 P. abelii (38 teeth), Late Pleistocene paleo-orangutans from Sumatra and Vietnam (67 teeth), Late Miocene catarrhines Lufengpithecus lufengensis (2 teeth), and Anapithecus hernyaki (7 teeth). Methods include micro-CT scans, radiography, and dental metrics of anterior teeth. We observed fenestration between incisor crypts and marked crowding of unerupted crowns, which could allow tooth-to-tooth contact. Tooth size does not differ significantly in animals with or without the defect, implicating undergrowth of the jaw as the proximate cause of dental crowding and defect presence. Male orangutans from both islands show more defects than do females. The defect is significantly more common in Bornean orangutans (71 %) compared to Sumatran (29 %). Prevalence among fossil forms falls between these extremes, except that all five individual Anapithecus show one or both incisors with the defect. We conclude that maxillary lateral incisor defect is a common developmental pathology of apes that is minimized in optimal habitats and that such evidence can be used to infer habitat quality in extant and fossil apes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)548-567
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Primatology
Issue number4-5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • Anapithecus
  • Dentition
  • Growth
  • Infancy
  • Lufengpithecus
  • Paleohealth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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