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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2013 Mar;150(3):409-20. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.22215. Epub 2013 Jan 28.

From the mouths of babes: dental caries in infants and children and the intensification of agriculture in mainland Southeast Asia.

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Department of Anatomy, University of Otago, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand.


Many bioarchaeological studies have established a link between increased dental caries prevalence and the intensification of agriculture. However, research in Southeast Asia challenges the global application of this theory. Although often overlooked, dental health of infants and children can provide a sensitive source of information concerning health and subsistence change. This article investigates the prevalence and location of caries in the dentition of infants and children (less than 15 years of age) from eight prehistoric mainland Southeast Asian sites collectively spanning the Neolithic to late Iron Age, during which time rice agriculture became an increasingly important subsistence mode. Caries prevalence varied among the sites but there was no correlation with chronological change. The absence of evidence of a decline in dental health over time can be attributed to the relative noncariogenicity of rice and retention of broad-spectrum subsistence strategies. No differences in caries type indicating differences in dental health were found between the sites, apart from the Iron Age site of Muang Sema. There was a higher prevalence of caries in the deciduous dentition than the permanent dentition, likely due to a cariogenic weaning diet and the higher sensitivity of deciduous teeth to decay. The level of caries in the permanent dentition suggests an increased reliance on less cariogenic foods during childhood, including rice. The absence of a temporal decline in dental health of infants and children strengthens the argument that the relationship between caries and agricultural intensification in Southeast Asia was more complex than the general model suggests.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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