Visualising trends in dentition to lip mouth morphology using geometric morphometrics

Tobias M. R. Houlton (Lead / Corresponding author), Nicolene Jooste, Maryna Steyn, Jason Hemingway

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Linear measurements taken from bony landmarks are often utilised in facial approximation (FA) to estimate and plan the placement of overlying soft tissue features. This process similarly guides craniofacial superimposition (CFS) practices. Knowledge of how hard and soft tissue features spatially relate around the mouth region is, however, limited. Geometric morphometric techniques have thus been used to investigate size and shape variation in dentition-to-lip mouth morphology in a South African population. Twenty landmarks (twelve dentition, eight lips) were digitised, using cone-beam CT images of the anterior craniofacial complex in a Frankfurt/Frankfort position, for 147 individuals aged between 20 and 75 years. Principal Component Analysis and Canonical Variate Analysis established that much shape variation exists. A two-way ANOVA identified significant (p < 0.0001) population and sex variation with mouth shape. Black individuals presented with thicker lips, with the oral fissure aligning closely to the dental occlusion. Oral fissure position for white individuals corresponded to the inferior one-quarter (females) or one-sixth (males) of the maxillary central incisor crowns. Males presented larger dimensions than females, but females had a greater lip-to-teeth height ratio than their male counterparts. A pooled within-group regression analysis assessed the effect of age on the dentition and lips and found that it had a significant (p < 0.0001) impact on mouth shape. Ageing was associated with a reduced lip and teeth height, increased mouth width, and a lowered oral fissure and cheilion placement. The generated mean shape data, with metric guides, offer a visual and numerical guide that builds on existing FA and CFS standards, enhancing our understanding of hard and soft tissue relationships.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0274127
Pages (from-to)e0274127
Number of pages16
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sep 2022


  • Facial approximation
  • craniofacial superimposition
  • mouth estimation
  • craniofacial identification
  • human identification
  • geometric morphometrics
  • forensic anthropology
  • forensic art


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