This study was designed to examine the magnitude and etiology of gender differences in oral health. South Asia was selected for study because sex differences in caries rates exist in prehistory here, great cultural diversity provides context, and clinical reports document caries by gender.


A literature survey yielded extensive data on caries rates in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. The percentage of individuals with caries (prevalence) and the mean number of decayed, missing, and filled teeth (experience) comprise the data. Statistical tests for gender differences come from published sources or were independently computed.


Higher caries rates were found more often among females than males. The data show that: (a) in male children caries rates are greater than, or equal to, female rates, (b) the gender bias reverses (F > M caries rates) from adolescence through the reproductive years, (c) mature adults typically exhibit significant differences, with higher caries rates in females, (d) a male gender bias in adults is rare, and (e) though some studies find no significant gender difference in caries, a female bias dominates. Tooth loss is also greater in women than men and often results from caries (vs. periodontal disease).


The gender gap in oral health exists in South Asia and results from genetic, hormonal, and cultural influences. Three cultural factors contribute to this gender gap South Asia: (a) the relative value of sons and daughters, (b) frequent fasting among Hindu women, and (c) the belief that dietary restrictions result in easier childbirth. Am. J. Hum. Biol., 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.