Positive identification can be problematic if fingerprinting, DNA, dental history, etc. are no longer available. This may be possible through techniques such as facial approximation, but any form of craniofacial identification requires intimate knowledge of human craniofacial anatomy. Where children are involved, craniofacial changes due to facial growth further complicate matters and require knowledge of tissue thickness and variation in facial shapes. These have hardly been studied in children of African descent.
The aims of this study were to provide data on tissue thickness and craniofacial proportions of South African Black and Coloured children and to document the lateral profile shape changes between the ages of 6 and 13 years.
Tissue thickness was measured using cephalograms of South African children (n = 388). After digitizing the images, tissue thickness measurements were taken at 11 mid-facial landmarks from each image using the iTEM measuring program. Craniofacial proportions were assessed through assessing standardized anterior and lateral facial photographs of 1749 children. Measurements of facial features were taken using iTEM, from which 28 standard facial indices were calculated. For both tissue thickness and craniofacial indices comparisons between groups per age, sex and ancestry were statistically analyzed. In addition, geometric morphometrics were used to describe lateral facial shape changes and differences age, sex and ancestry (n = 800).
The results showed that tissue thickness differences at lower face landmarks are more pronounced in age groups per ancestry as opposed to differences per age and sex. Facial profile per facial shape, class and ancestry showed differences at all landmarks. Craniofacial indices indicated that Coloured children have wider heads, foreheads and faces compared to Black children. The height of the nose and lower lip is longer in Coloured children compared to Black children. In Coloured children, mandibular height and lower face height is shorter in relation to total face height. Males have wider heads, foreheads, mandibles and faces compared to females. The degree of prognathism is dictated by ancestry and to a lesser extent by age and sex as findings showed that maxillary prognathism was more prominent in Black children, while mandibular prognathism were more pronounced in male children. South Africans have a relative concave lateral facial profile due to the maxilla and mandible being more prognathic than in North American children. Differences in lateral face shape between children of various ages, sexes and ancestral groups were visualized through the relative displacement of landmarks related to the forehead and lower face. The resultant differences in lateral facial profile can assist in more accurate estimation of age and ancestry of unknown children. This research created reference datasets for tissue thickness and craniofacial indices of South African children of Black and Coloured ancestry per age and sex that will be useful in the diagnosis of facial dysmorphology and for facial reconstruction / approximation of juvenile remains. It also shed more light on facial growth patterns in the various groups.