The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Dental bioindicators of health: at the intersection of bioarchaeology and contemporary human biomonitoring programs


Anthropology, The University of Western Ontario

Friday 3:00-3:15, Ballroom A Add to calendar

Bioarchaeologists are familiar with the notion of using teeth to assess the degree of stress of past populations, or the quality of their health. Markers of growth arrest, such as linear enamel hypoplasia or accentuated striae of Retzius, are used to determine the frequency and timing of stress episodes. The chemical compositions of teeth are often used to comment not only upon aspects of diet, but extended to the building of explanatory models regarding the health of past peoples. In fact, bioarchaeologists have been viewing teeth as retrospective indicators of childhood stress, and linking this stress to long-term consequences for individuals and populations, for decades.

Bioarchaeologists are not alone in their use of teeth to explore human health. Dental ‘bioindicators’ are of growing interest to epidemiologists, environmental scientists, and public health researchers, who aim to biomonitor the health of living populations. Several biobanking initiatives around the world now include deciduous tooth banks. Samples from these biobanks, when combined with longitudinal health data, are used to link variation in early childhood environments to later morbidity and mortality outcomes.

Based upon this bioarchaeologist’s experience of working with a tooth bank associated with the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa), this paper will explore the fruitful connections and current miscommunications between researchers with diverse understandings of the stress and health relationship(s). A critical evaluation of how these concepts are employed by various researchers will help to maximize the potential contribution of dental bioindicators to the study of health in past populations.

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