The oral environment is a complex place. It is intimately tied in with metabolic rates, mechanical properties of foods, teeth and oral mucosae, the chemistry of food and saliva, and muscular actions and their patterns and controls. I am particularly interested in identifying oral, especially dental pathologies in mammals to better understand how mammals have adapted to cope with how these various factors have changed due to changs in diet, lifestyle, physiology, or habitat.
There are many ways in which one could do so, but being a paleontologist and anatomist by training, I tend toward placing morphologically recognizeable pathologies in a phylogenetic context. Some examples of current projects include:
- Incidence of caries, calculus, and dento-alveolar abscesses in the Lutrinae (otters). Modern otters range from almost fully terrestrial taxa to marine taxa that hardly return to land, and the changes in their diets and exposure to different aqueous solutions (marine vs freshwater) may reflect changes in how oral chemistry interacts with bacteria that form many dental pathologies.
- Incidence of mandibular injuries in mysticete whales, including fossil taxa, may be useful as indicators of feeding behaviors or intraspecific interactions.