Dental development is one of the most widely utilized and accurate methods available for estimating age in subadult skeletal remains. The timing of tooth growth and development is regulated by genetics and less affected by external factors, allowing reliable estimates of chronological age. Traditional methodology focuses on comparing tooth developmental scores to corresponding age charts. Using the Moorrees, Fanning, and Hunt (MFH) developmental scores, Shackelford and colleagues embed the dental development method in a statistical framework based on transition analysis. They generated numerical parameters underlining each “stage” and age-at-death distribution and applied them to fossil hominins and Neanderthals with limited application to modern humans. We use this same method on a subadult test sample (n = 201), representing modern individuals that may become part of the forensic record. We assess the probability coverage of the Shackelford et al. method derived from MFH standards as it applies to all available dentition. Results indicate promise: the age range at 90% and 95% confidence levels includes the chronological age of almost every individual tested. The maximum likelihood age estimates underestimate age by 0.5–2.5 years for individuals 0–15 years of age and by >2.5 years for individuals 16–18 years of age, as previously shown. In an attempt to refine the method, we adjusted the numerical parameters underlying the stages for developing teeth based on a combined modern reference sample (n = 1,964) and tested these revised parameters using the same test sample. The estimated ages from the modified method differ from the original Shackelford et al. methodology by underestimating age to a lesser degree. The modified method does include mean age-at-attainment values for earlier stages of several teeth, allowing for the calculation of narrower confidence intervals. While this study highlights areas of future research in refining dental developmental aging by transition analysis, it also demonstrates that the Shackelford et al. method is applicable and accurate when aging modern subadults in forensic work.
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Vol. 90 • No. 1