Scanning Microscopy


Dental microwear analysis is a method of inferring oral events (primarily food processing and aspects of masticatory biomechanics) from microscopic abrasion patterns retained on the enamel surfaces of teeth. Although some qualitative pattern differences may be easily distinguishable, most of the significant results produced thus far have derived from quantified studies of SEM images of occlusal enamel. It often goes unnoticed by readers of microwear reports who are not themselves specialists that microwear analysis is essentially a statistical method, not a visual one. In this review of current techniques and methods, several problems in current approaches are detailed. It is noted that feature definition can have significant effects on ultimate pattern differentiation. Sampling bias is also a major concern, as most microwear studies are carried out on samples which are very small. Compounding this are the effects of magnification level choices, and the effects of SEM instrumentation on feature visibility. Finally, the interpretation of pattern differences requires careful attention to comparisons of within-group and between-group variability.

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