Dental Morphology: The Informative but Lesser-Known Traits

Dental Morphology: The Informative but Lesser-Known Traits

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This webinar originally occurred on February 8, 2023
Duration: 1.5 hours


Estimation of population affinity is a core component of the forensic anthropological biological profile. Most forensic anthropologists rely on craniometric1 and cranial macromorphoscopic2 methods in formulating this estimation. Dental morphology has traditionally been underutilized as a data source in forensic anthropology. There are few published studies employing dental morphological methods for population affinity,3,4 and more are in development. Methods currently published require that practitioners have significant experience scoring dental traits before they can be accurately applied. Most forensic anthropologists are familiar with shoveling of the central maxillary incisors and Carabelli’s trait of the maxillary first molars for their utility in population affinity estimations,5 though the reliance on these traits may be more based in tradition than in actual utility.6 However, because dental anthropology is not always part of the forensic anthropological education, fewer anthropologists are familiar or comfortable with less commonly known dental morphological traits, especially those of the molars.

This presentation will focus on 11 dental morphological traits of the maxillary and mandibular molars that can be useful in estimating population affinity. These traits are metacone, hypocone, metaconule, parastyle, protostylid, anterior fovea, deflecting wrinkle, enamel extensions, and mandibular cusps 5, 6, and 7. Easy to apply trait descriptions, examples, and any known global or regional population frequencies from published literature will be presented so attendees may incorporate these into their casework. We will discuss applying currently available methods for estimating population affinity and talk about new methods to be available in the near future.

After viewing the presentation practitioners will understand core concepts related to the application of dental morphology in the forensic estimation for population affinity. Practitioners also will be familiar with 11 dental morphological characteristics that are useful in estimating population affinity, but that are not commonly taught about in detail. Practitioners can then apply this knowledge in their casework using methods currently available.


  1. Jantz R.L., & Ousley S.D. 2005. Fordisc 3.1 Personal computer forensic discriminant functions. University of Tennessee.
  2. Hefner J.T. 2009. Cranial Nonmetric variation and estimating ancestry. J Forensic Sci 54(5):985-995.
  3. Edgar H.J.H. 2013. Estimation of ancestry using dental morphological characteristics. J Forensic Sci 58(s1):s3-8. PMCID: PMC3548042
  4. Scott, G. Richard, et al. "rASUDAS: A new web-based application for estimating ancestry from tooth morphology." Forensic Anthropology 1.1 (2018): 18-31.
  5. Birkby, Walter H., Todd W. Fenton, and Bruce E. Anderson. "Identifying Southwest Hispanics using nonmetric traits and the cultural profile." Journal of Forensic Sciences 53.1 (2008): 29-33.
  6. Hawkey D.E., Turner C.G. II. 1998. Carabelli's trait and forensic anthropology: Whose teeth are these?. In: Lukacs J.R., editor. Human Dental Development, Morphology, and Pathology: A Tribute to Albert A. Dahlberg. Eugene: Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon. p 41-50.

Detailed Learning Objectives

  1. Attendees will understand the core concepts related to the collection of dental morphological data.
  2. Attendees will become familiar with dental morphological characteristics used in the estimation of population affinity.
  3. Attendees will be able to apply this knowledge in the estimation of the forensic anthropological biological profile.


  • Heather J.H. Edgar, Ph.D. | Professor, Forensic Anthropologist, University of New Mexico
  • Becca George, Ph.D. | Instructor of Anthropology/Forensic Anthropology Facilities Curator, Western Carolina University

Funding for this Forensic Technology Center of Excellence webinar has been provided by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this webinar are those of the presenter(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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