Maize dependence or market integration? Caries prevalence among indigenous maya communities with maize-based versus globalized economies


  • Elma Maria Vega Lizama,

    1. Facultad de Odontología, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Mérida, Yucatán, México
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  • Andrea Cucina

    Corresponding author
    1. Facultad de Ciencias Antropológicas, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Mérida, Yucatán, México
    • Correspondence to: Andrea Cucina, PhD, Facultad de Ciencias Antropológicas, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Km. 1 Carretera Mérida-Tizimin, Mérida, Yucatán, 97305, México. E-mail:

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The relationship between diet and oral health is widely known, yet data on dental caries prevalence is lacking for many indigenous groups with traditional or rapidly modernizing diets. This research documents caries prevalence in two Maya communities from northern Yucatán (Mexico) with significantly different levels of market integration, subsistence, and diet: Yalsihón, with a traditional, maize-based subsistence economy, and Dzilam, with access to globalized food markets. Each sample was subdivided by sex into 15–19, 20–24, and 25–30 years-of-age classes. Caries prevalence was considered separately both when the lesion affected the enamel superficially (grade 1+) and when it reached the dentin (grade 2+). In both villages, females of all age classes manifest more caries than males. Results show higher prevalence of caries at Dzilam than at Yalsihón, except for grade 1+ caries among 15–19-year-old males and grade 2+ caries among 15–19-year-old females. Though differences are not significant, earlier pregnancies among 15–19-year-old females at Yalsihón could be a causative factor. A survey indicated a more balanced diet at Yalsihón despite a heavier intake of maize than at Dzilam. Striking differences were documented in the ingestion of soda and globalized foods; sodas were virtually absent at Yalsihón, while at Dzilam they were ingested daily in great quantities. The decline in oral health at Dzilam is inferred to result from consumption of industrially processed foods and drinks, while a traditional diet leads to less caries despite daily heavy consumption of maize, which must be considered when interpreting caries rates in archaeological samples. Am J Phys Anthropol 153:190–202, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.