The neolithic demographic transition and oral health: The Southeast Asian experience

Authors

  • Anna Willis,

    1. School of Archaeology and Anthropology, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
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  • Marc F. Oxenham

    Corresponding author
    • School of Archaeology and Anthropology, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
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Correspondence to: Marc F. Oxenham, School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia. E-mail: marc.oxenham@anu.edu.au

ABSTRACT

The purpose of this article is to present new oral health data from Neolithic An Son, southern Vietnam, in the context of (1) a reassessment of published data on other Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron Age Southeast Asian dental series, and (2) predictions of the Neolithic Demographic Transition (NDT). To this end, frequencies for three oral conditions (caries, antemortem tooth loss, and alveolar lesions) were investigated for seven Southeast Asian adult dental series from Thailand and Vietnam with respect to time period, age-at-death and sex. A clear pattern of elevated rates for oral disease in the Neolithic followed by a marked improvement in oral health during the Bronze and Iron Ages was observed. Moreover, rates of caries and antemortem tooth loss for females were almost without exception higher than that for males in all samples. The consensus view among Southeast Asian bioarchaeologists that oral health did not decline with the adoption/intensification of agriculture in Southeast Asia, can no longer be supported. In light of evidence for (1) the low cariogenicity of rice; (2) the physiological predisposition of females (particularly when pregnant) to poorer oral health; and (3) health predictions of the NDT model with respect to elevated levels of fertility, the most plausible chief explanation for the observed patterns in oral health in Southeast Asia is increased levels of fertility during the Neolithic, followed by a decline in fertility during the subsequent Bronze and Iron Ages. Am J Phys Anthropol 152:197–208, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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