A Finite Element Analysis of Masticatory Stress Hypotheses

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American Journal of Physical Anthropology


Understanding how the skull transmits and dissipates forces during feeding provides insights into the selective pressures that may have driven the evolution of primate skull morphology. Traditionally, researchers have interpreted masticatory biomechanics in terms of simple global loading regimes applied to simple shapes (i.e., bending in sagittal and frontal planes, dorsoventral shear, and torsion of beams and cylinders). This study uses finite element analysis to examine the extent to which these geometric models provide accurate strain predictions in the face and evaluate whether simple global loading regimes predict strains that approximate the craniofacial deformation pattern observed during mastication. Loading regimes, including those simulating peak loads during molar chewing and those approximating the global loading regimes, were applied to a previously validated finite element model (FEM) of a macaque (Macaca fascicularis) skull, and the resulting strain patterns were compared. When simple global loading regimes are applied to the FEM, the resulting strains do not match those predicted by simple geometric models, suggesting that these models fail to generate accurate predictions of facial strain. Of the four loading regimes tested, bending in the frontal plane most closely approximates strain patterns in the circumorbital region and lateral face, apparently due to masseter muscle forces acting on the zygomatic arches. However, these results indicate that no single simple global loading regime satisfactorily accounts for the strain pattern found in the validated FEM. Instead, we propose that FE models replace simple cranial models when interpreting bone strain data and formulating hypotheses about craniofacial biomechanics.



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anthropoids, biomechanics, bone strain, feeding, skull