The human canine
Its evolution and adaptive significance
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The canine is a tooth with special characteristics and adaptive significance that varies considerably between mammalian lines and the primates. No matter what the line, canine teeth are never involved in mastication and do not interfere with masticatory dynamics. Mastication, which is one of the most complex functions that monkeys and apes display, appears well before the large canines in both phylogeny and ontogeny. In apes, their size and shape have nothing to do with diet, but are linked to sexual selection. The human line of hominids possesses smaller canines that have become incisiform and have lost their sexual and social function. They are now used exclusively to tear apart meat and other types of solid foods. The development of a wide, short buccal surface that increased medial-lateral movement during the masticatory cycle, may explain this particular development in recent hominids including humans. From an evolutionary point of view this means that the human canine has been subjected to stresses imposed by the biomechanical environment of the masticatory apparatus. In other words, the human canine, as well as those of the other anthropoids, does not guide mastication but has acquired a morphology and position restricted by masticatory functions. In evolutionary terms, it is therefore referred to as an “exaptation”; it has acquired, not a function, but a passive characteristic which makes it a marker for rehabilitation – on condition that its eruption is related to normal masticatory functions in individual histories, but it never serves as a mediator of mastication.
Key words: Canine / Mastication / Evolution
© RODF / EDP Sciences, 2010