Australian Aboriginal Tooth Succession, Interproximal Attrition and Begg's Theory


In 1954, P.R. Begg analysed interproximal attrition as a prehistorically universal mechanism to reduce tooth size. With modern processed diets and the virtual disappearance of constant interproximal attrition, Begg asserted, teeth remain too large for the arches and become crowded. Later investigators have questioned Begg's estimate of attritional tooth-size reduction, as well as aspects of his theory relating the succession sequence of permanent teeth to different malocclusions. The present paper examines the theory using longitudinal casts and records of modern Australian aborigines who are among the first generation lacking notable interproximal attrition thanks to a 'modernised' diet. Deciduous and permanent tooth size, arch size, and occlusal relational variables were analysed with respect to the expected occlusal outcomes in the absence of attritional tooth reduction. Permanent incisor overjet correlated with crowding status, as predicted by Begg. On the other hand, longer teeth did not relate to crowding in general nor to crowding in relevant local areas or during developmental stages. Unfavourable leeway space did not relate clearly to crowding or other malocclusions. Lowered correlations among structures and narrowness of the maxilla related more significantly to malocclusion. These results are in keeping with recent thinking that small jaws, rather than large teeth, underlie tooth/arch discrepancy.