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Publication Detail
Recording dental caries in archaeological human remains
  • Publication Type:
    Journal article
  • Publication Sub Type:
    Journal Article
  • Authors:
    Hillson S
  • Publication date:
  • Pagination:
    249, 289
  • Journal:
    International Journal of Osteoarchaeology
  • Volume:
  • Issue:
  • Status:
  • Print ISSN:
Dental caries is an important condition to record in archaeological collections, but the way in which recording is carried out has a large effect on the way in which the results can be interpreted. In living populations, dental caries is a disease that shows a strong relationship with age Both the nature of carious lesions and their frequency change with successive age groups from childhood to elderly adulthood. There is also a progression in the particular teeth in the dentition which are most commonly affected and, in general, the molars and premolars are involved much more frequently than the canines and incisors. Lower teeth are usually affected more than upper, although the condition usually involves the right and left sides fairly equally. In the high tooth wear rate populations represented by many archaeological and museum collections, there is a complex relationship between the form of lesions and the state of wear, which adds yet another range of factors to the changing pattern of caries with increasing age. In the same populations, chipping, fracture and anomalous abrasion of teeth are also common, and these contribute similarly to the distribution and forms of carious lesion observed. Amongst the living, the pattern of ante-mortem tooth loss is important in understanding caries and, in archaeological material, there is also the complicating factor of post-mortem tooth loss. Finally, there is the question of diagnosis. There are diagnostic problems even in epidemiological studies of living patients and, for archaeological specimens, diagenetic change and the variable preservation of different parts of the dentition add further complications. For all these reasons, it is difficult to define any one general index of dental caries to represent the complete dentition of each individual, which would be universally suitable for studying a full range of collections from archaeological sites or museums. Variation in the nature of collections, their preservation, tooth wear, and ante-mortem and post-mortem tooth loss mean that when such a general index appears to differ between sites, there could be many other reasons for this, in addition to any genuine differences in caries incidence and pattern that might have been present. It is suggested here that the best approach is instead to make comparisons separately for each tooth type, age group, sex, lesion type and potential lesion site on the tooth. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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