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

Bioarchaeological analysis of dental health and diet in Tonga


Department of Anatomy and Structural Biology, University of Otago

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In this study, a general census of dental health (caries, periodontal disease, macrowear, dental chipping, calculus, and antemortem tooth loss) is carried out in 77 individuals excavated from the ‘Atele mounds of Tongatapu, Tonga (~1000-1700 C.E.). From these 77 individuals, 1056 teeth/tooth sockets and 975 interalveolar septa are examined. The aim of this study is to create a holistic picture of subsistence and dietary practices using dental markers of diet.

Caries rates are relatively high for a Polynesian population; 11.9% of permanent teeth had carious lesions; 61.4% of adults had at least one carious lesion. By-tooth analysis of periodontal disease indicated a relatively low prevalence of septal changes (61.7% healthy), but no adult individuals had all septal areas healthy; general periodontal reactions occurred in almost the entire population. Men showed significantly higher rates of periodontitis than women (p≤0.001). The degree of macrowear follows general age trends, but there are no significant sex differences. Of the 743 adult teeth examined for chipping, significantly more anterior teeth were chipped than posterior teeth (p=0.013), indicating a greater focus on incisal shearing and anterior tooth-tool use compared to chewing. Calculus is present in almost all adults. Antemortem tooth loss was relatively rare; only 8.2% of adult teeth were lost before death. Intra-population trends regarding age and sex are presented, as are inter-population comparisons between other Polynesian samples. The results are discussed against a background of ethnographic and archaeological literature, which suggest a typical Tongan diet was centered on well-cooked, carbohydrate-rich root vegetables.

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