The ontogeny (growth and development) of the craniofacial region is extremely complex. Because of this complexity the history of research on the skull is diverse and temporally deep. Although it is possible to study this region without reference to the bony skull, the vast majority of investigations are based on it. Whereas dry-skull studies provide the foundation for understanding craniofacial ontogeny, new developments in related fields are expanding our understanding at an ever-quickening rate.
Specifically, new methods of imaging skulls and the application of complex mathematical and statistical models are allowing for the investigation of craniofacial shape changes far beyond what was previously available. Developments in evolutionary developmental biology, genetics, and physiology are providing significantly clarified understanding of how the bony skull arises and how it is modified in pathological and anomalous conditions. With the addition of advances in understanding of the evolution of the modern human craniofacial complex, we are fast approaching a time when we can define the role of various developmental processes in shaping specific aspects of craniofacial anatomy.
Understanding of craniofacial ontogeny can only be advanced by the integration of new methods with evidence from developmental biology and biomechanics and interpreting these data within a functional matrix perspective. To this end, my colleagues and I are working on a series of projects that incorporate many of these new techniques and data. Topics that are actively being developed include the ontogeny of cranial sutures; aspects of tooth and enamel ontogeny; and the definition of functional matrices in the craniofacial region. Additionally, we are investigating the nature of various dwarfing conditions that affect humans in an effort to link the known genetic and physiological changes to specific cranial morphologies.
Dr. Gary D. Richards, email@example.com, 415.929.6573