The current research will examine the frequency of carious teeth, periapical abscesses and ante-mortem tooth loss in the Newburgh Colored Burial Ground (1830–1870), a free black cemetery in Newburgh, New York. The Newburgh material is compared with skeletal samples from the New York African Burial Ground, New York State almshouses, a free black cemetery from Philadelphia and middle-class/upper-class European cemeteries. Although previous research suggests that dental health became worse throughout the 19th century, there is no consistent pattern between the 17th-century and 18th-century skeletal sample of enslaved blacks from New York City and 19th-century free blacks from Newburgh and Philadelphia. The frequency of dental caries does increase through time but the other indicators change little (equal or fewer ante-mortem tooth loss) or suggest an improvement in dental health (fewer periapical abscesses) through time. Relative to contemporaneous populations, the individuals from Newburgh appear much more similar in terms of dental health to upper-class and middle-class European groups than to the other marginalised groups considered in this research. The impact of the economic, political and social changes that accompanied the Industrial Revolution and their potential impact on dental health are considered. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.