Movement analysis of primate molar teeth under load using synchrotron X-ray microtomography
Mammalian teeth have to sustain repetitive and high chewing loads without failure. Key to this capability is the periodontal ligament (PDL), a connective tissue containing a collagenous fibre network which connects the tooth roots to the alveolar bone socket and which allows the teeth to move when loaded. It has been suggested that rodent molars under load experience a screw-like downward motion but it remains unclear whether this movement also occurs in primates. Here we use synchroton micro-computed tomography paired with an axial loading setup to investigate the form-function relationship between tooth movement and the morphology of the PDL space in a non-human primate, the mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus). The loading behavior of both mandibular and maxillary molars showed a three-dimensional movement with translational and rotational components, which pushes the tooth into the alveolar socket. Moreover, we found a non-uniform PDL thickness distribution and a gradual increase in volumetric proportion of the periodontal vasculature from cervical to apical. Our results suggest that the PDL morphology may optimize the three-dimensional tooth movement to avoid high stresses under loading.