ANT 201 Research Guide

Course guide for Dr. Ben Freed and Dr. Charlana McQuinn, Fall 2017

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Biological/Physical Anthropology Topics related to the Dental Anthropology assignment: diet, nutrition, dental caries, carious lesions, division of labor, saliva, hormone, dietary diversity, osteology, bioarchaeology, Canary Islands, Hillson, Lukacs.

ANT 201, Dr. Ben Freed, Fall 2017, Lab 1: Library Lab

Dental Anthropology

Dental anthropologists examine teeth to understand better how biological, cultural, and biocultural processes affect the human condition.  Dental health may reflect modes of subsistence, sexual division of labor, access to health care, physiological processes, and exposure to certain elements.   Besides looking at living populations, anthropologists also examine how these processes affect dental health over long periods of time, including archaeological and paleontological populations.  The same processes may also have an evolutionary basis, so many anthropologists examine how these processes affect dental health in nonhuman primates as well.

One puzzling result of dental health studies is that women tend to be more susceptible to one of the most common diseases in the world, dental caries.  Some have suggested that differences in the age of dental eruption and exposure to certain hormones have influenced salivary composition and have also affected the extent of exposure to acids that wear down teeth.  Some researchers have suggested that dietary differences might also explain sex differences in dental health.  Still, others have argued that access to dental care, increased amounts of food preparation time, and other more cultural factors may explain better these differences in dental caries.

As part of the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), you have been asked to provide a list of references/citations for people working on the extent to which biological processes and cultural processes influence sex differences in dental caries prevalence.  The resource list you create would be part of a longer presentation you would give your CDC colleagues.

Anthropologists (physical, archaeological, and cultural) provide a unique perspective on the issue.  A combination of cultural, biological, and genetic factors are very much at the basis of our dental health.  Many anthropologists study the evolutionary basis of dental health, drawing on evidence from cultural, paleontological, and primatological studies, providing a cross-cultural and cross-species scope to the issue.  For example, nutritional anthropologists often examine food item and food species preferences and consumption, both in living populations (whether they be hunter-gatherers, agriculturalists, pastoralists, or state level/industrial societies) and in past populations, both in humans and in nonhuman primates.

Your reference list should help address the following questions:

  1. Based on health records, is there a sexual difference in dental caries prevalence in Kentucky, Appalachia, or the United States?
  2. Describe one cultural reason that dental anthropologists have used to explain why females may have a higher prevalence for dental caries.
  3. Describe one biological/physiological reason that dental anthropologists have used to explain why females may have a higher prevalence for dental caries.
  4. Based on research in one species of wild nonhuman primate (e.g., lemur, loris, tarsier, monkey, guenon, langur, gibbon, ape, gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo, orangutan), describe whether sex differences in dental health (either in dental caries, or in the presence of carious lesions) occur in a nonhuman primate.
  5. Describe what researchers have observed as to the prevalence of dental caries in one American archaeological population.

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