It is not fully understood whether masticatory performance is compromised in individuals with the more common forms of malocclusion (i.e. Class I and Class II). The aim of this prospective investigation was to establish the relationships between masticatory performance, malocclusion (type and severity), age, body size and gender, in children and adolescents. A total of 335 individuals were examined at the average ages of 6, 9, 12 and 15 years. Each subject's occlusal status was described by Angle classification and by the Peer Assessment Ratio (PAR) index. Masticatory performance was quantified by the median particle size (MPS) and the broadness of particle distribution using artificial food. Masticatory performance improved significantly with age. The 6-year-old children were less able to break down the food particles (MPS 4.20 mm2) than the 15 year olds (MPS 3.24 mm2). Analysis of covariance showed that age differences in performance are related to an increase in body size. There were statistically significant differences in masticatory performance between children with normal occlusion and those with a Class I malocclusion; no differences were found between normal occlusion and Class II malocclusion. Gender differences did not explain the variation in masticatory performance. It is concluded that occlusal indices are not reliable predictors of masticatory performance. Traditional descriptors of malocclusion type and severity apparently cannot explain most of the variation in masticatory performance in children and adolescents.
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