Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Michael H. Logan

Committee Members

Murray K. Marks, Walter E. Klippel


When we consider how painful dental drilling is now in spite of the advances of science with respect to anesthesia and modern instruments, we cannot help but think how much those people must have suffered from the filing and dental preparations which were performed. (Fastlicht 1948:319)

Human teeth provide an excellent source of information about an individual's past. Because of this, scientists study the range of characteristics manifested in teeth. One such characteristic is dental modification. Modification of the human dentition has a long and varied history in numerous cultures (see Milner and Larsen 1991). This study explores the practice and theorizes on the purposes of dental modifications from a biocultural viewpoint. There are three relevant questions to this endeavor: What, if any, are the consequences accompanying the alteration of teeth? What are the biosocial benefits associated with modified dentitions? Is this custom a maladaptive trait? A definition of dental art is presented along with an historical overview of this practice. This thesis also provides a review of relevant literature on dental modification. The effects of dental alterations on the oral complex are then discussed, including their hygienic, morphological, and histological impacts. Lastly, a theoretical discussion is offered on the reasons why some cultures engaged in this practice, and why some contemporary societies still do. New areas of research on this subject are also advanced.

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Anthropology Commons