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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2003 Sep;122(1):1-10.

Dental caries and antemortem tooth loss in the Northern Peten area, Mexico: a biocultural perspective on social status differences among the Classic Maya.

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Facultad de Ciencias Antropológicas, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico.


Dental caries and antemortem tooth loss (AMTL) are investigated in a Classic Maya sample obtained from the sites of Calakmul, Dzibanché, and Kohunlich (Mexico). This study aims at assessing the effect that sex and social status had on the prevalence of oral pathologies. The lack of a direct relationship between caries, AMTL, and age-at-death led us to interpret the results in terms of the biological, socioeconomic, and behavioral conditions prevailing in these ancient Maya settlements. Benefits related to sex and social status are evident in the frequency of carious lesions, which appear less frequently in elite males than in low-status individuals of both sexes and in elite females. Individuals from problematic mortuary contexts and isolated bone assemblages, who could not be ascribed to any status group, showed the highest rates of caries. Sex discrimination in dietary preferences appears in the elite sample, while the homogeneity encountered between sexes in the low-status segment suggests a more uniform access to resources. Tooth loss clearly distinguishes elite individuals from commoners, regardless of sex, with the former bearing a much higher rate of loss. In individuals from the undefined mortuary assemblages and sacrificial contexts, it was even more pronounced than in the other groups, although its interpretation is problematic due to a lack of associated funerary data. The overall evidence from oral pathologies is interpreted to be the result of deficient oral hygiene coupled with a softer and more refined diet in the high-status population, particularly males. Whereas elite males' subsistence was apparently based more on animal proteins and relatively soft and refined foods, a diet relying on carbohydrates may account for the observed rate of oral pathologies in elite females and commoners.

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