Radiographic evaluation of third mandibular molar development as an age indicator in a Swedish population
The root of the third permanent molar is the only dental structure that continues development after completion of growth of the second permanent molar. It is claimed that the lack of a clearly defined end point for completion of growth of the third permanent molar means that this tooth cannot be used for dental age assessment. The aim of this study was to estimate the mean age of attainment of the four stages (E, F, G, and H) of root development of the third molar. The way in which the end point of completion of stage H can be identified is described. A total of 1223 dental panoramic tomographs (DPTs) available in the archives of the Eastman Dental Hospital, London, were used for this study. The ages of the subjects ranged from 12.6 to 24.9 years with 63 per cent of the sample being female. Demirjan's tooth development stages (TDSs), for the first and second molars, were applied to the third molars by a single examiner. For each of stages E, F, and G and for stage H censored data, the mean ages of the males and females were compared, separately within each tooth morphology type using the two sample t-test (P < 0.01). The same test was used to compare the mean ages of the upper and lower third molars on each side, separately for each gender. The mean age of attainment and the 99 per cent confidence interval (CI) for each TDS were calculated for each third molar. The final stage H data were appropriately censored to exclude data above the age of completion of root growth. The results showed that, for each gender, the age in years at which individuals attained each of the four TDSs was approximately normally distributed. The mean age for appropriately censored data was always lower than the corresponding mean age of the inappropriately censored data for stage H (male UR8 19.57, UL8 19.53, LL8 19.91, and LR8 20.02 and female UR8 20.08, UL8 20.13, LL8 20.78, and LR8 20.70). This inappropriately censored data overestimated the mean age for stage H. The appropriately censored data for the TDSs of the third molar may be used to estimate the age of adolescents and emerging adults assuming average growth and development and recent attainment of stage H.