Diet and Dental Caries in Post-Medieval London

  • Madeleine Mant
  • Charlotte Roberts


This paper explores the dentition of individuals excavated from two post-medieval London cemeteries. Individuals from Chelsea Old Church, a middle-class group, and St. Bride’s lower churchyard, a working-class group, were selected and studied. The relative dental status of each group was explored by determining the prevalence of individuals and teeth affected by dental caries. The overall dental status of both class groups was found to be poor; diet was the most likely causative factor. Access to cariogenic foods such as sugar and refined flour likely affected individuals’ dental status regardless of their social class.


Bioarchaeology Diet Status Dental caries Antemortem tooth loss 



The authors thank Jelena Bekvalac and Dr. Rebecca Redfern of the Museum of London Centre for Human Bioarchaeology for allowing access to the skeletal remains. They are grateful to Phil Howard, Durham University, for his aid with statistics. Many thanks to the two anonymous reviewers, whose insights greatly improved this manuscript.


  1. Biggs, B., King, L., Basu, S., and Stuckler, D. (2010). Is wealthier always healthier? the impact of national income level, inequality, and poverty on public health in Latin America. Social Science & Medicine 71: 266–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Boyle, A. and Keevil, G. (with a contribution by Cox, M., Kneller, P. and Haslam, R.) (1998). “To the praise of the dead, and anatomie”: the analysis of post-medieval burials at St. Nicholas, Sevenoaks, Kent. In Cox, M. (ed.), Grave Concerns: Death and Burial in England 1700–1850, Council for British Archaeology, York, pp. 85–99.Google Scholar
  3. Braudel, F. (1981). Civilization and Capitalism, 15th to 18th Century, Volume I: The Structures of Everyday Life, Harper and Row, New York.Google Scholar
  4. Brickley, M., Buteux, S., Adams, J., and Cherrington, R. (1999). The Cross Bones Burial Ground, Redcross Way, Southwark, London. Archaeological excavations (1991–1998) for the London Underground Limited Jubilee Line Extension Project, Museum of London, London.Google Scholar
  5. Brickley, M., Buteux, S., Adams, J., and Cherrington, R. (2006). St. Martin’s Uncovered: Investigations in the churchyard of St. Martin’s-in-the-Bull Ring, Birmingham, 2001, Oxbow, Oxford.Google Scholar
  6. BFS (British Fluoridation Society). (2012). One in a million: the facts about water fluoridation. 3rd ed.
  7. British Medical Association. (2010). New President For The BMA: Sir Michael Marmot. Medical News Today.
  8. Brooks, S. T., and Suchey, J. M. (1990). Skeletal age determination based on the os pubis: a comparison of the Ascadi-Nemeskeri and Suchey-Brooks methods. Journal of Human Evolution 5: 227–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brothwell, D. R. (1959). Teeth in earlier human populations. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 18: 59–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brothwell, D. R. (1981). Digging Up Bones, Natural History Museum, London.Google Scholar
  11. Buckberry, J. L., and Chamberlain, A. T. (2002). Age estimation from the auricular surface of the ilium: a revised method. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 119: 231–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Buikstra, J. E. (1977). Biocultural dimensions of archeological study: a regional perspective. In Blakely, R. L. (ed.), Biocultural Adaptation in Prehistoric America, University of Georgia Press, Athens, pp. 67–84.Google Scholar
  13. Buikstra, J. E. (1991). Out of the appendix and into the dirt: comments on thirteen years of bioarchaeological research. In Powell, M. L., Bridges, P. S., and Mires, A. M. W. (eds.), What Mean These Bones? Studies in Southeastern Bioarchaeology, University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, pp. 172–188.Google Scholar
  14. Burt, B. A. (1993). Relative consumption of sucrose and other sugars: has it been a factor in reduced caries experience? Caries Research 27: 56–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cohen, M. N., and Bennett, S. (1993). Skeletal evidence for sex roles and gender hierarchies in prehistory. In Miller, B. D. (ed.), Skeletal Differences and Gender Hierarchies, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 273–296.Google Scholar
  16. Connell, B., and Rauxloh, P. (2003). A Rapid Method for Recording Human Skeletal Data, Unpublished Museum of London report, London.Google Scholar
  17. Corbett, E., and Moore, W. J. (1976). Distribution of dental caries in ancient British populations IV: the 19th century. Caries Research 10: 401–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Costa, R. L. (1982). Periodontal disease in the prehistoric Ipiutak and Tigara skeletal remains from Point Hope, Alaska. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 59: 97–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cowie, R., Bekvalac, J., and Kausmally, T. (2008). Late 17th- to 19th-Century Burial and Earlier Occupation at All Saints, Chelsea Old Church, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Museum of London, London.Google Scholar
  20. Cucina, A., and Tiesler, V. (2003). Dental caries and ante-mortem tooth loss in the Northern Peten area, Mexico: a biocultural perspective on social status differences among the Classic Maya. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 122: 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Danforth, M. E., Jacobi, K. P., and Cohen, M. N. (1997). Gender and health in the colonial Maya of Tipu, Belize. Ancient Mesoamerica 8: 13–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Deerr, N. (1950). The History of Sugar, vol. 2, Chapman and Hall, London.Google Scholar
  23. Drummond, J. C., and Wilbraham, A. (1957). The Englishman’s Food: A History of Five Centuries of English Diet, Jonathan Cape, London.Google Scholar
  24. Eden, F. M. (1797). The State of the Poor: A History of the Labouring Classes in England, J. Davis, London.Google Scholar
  25. Fildes, V. (1986). Breasts, Bottles and Babies: A History of Infant Feeding, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.Google Scholar
  26. Finlay, R., and Shearer, B. (1986). Population growth and suburban expansion. In Beier, A. L., and Finlay, R. (eds.), London 1500–1700: The Making of the Metropolis, Longman, London, pp. 37–59.Google Scholar
  27. Frayer, D. W. (1984). Tooth size, oral pathology and class distinctions: evidence from the Hungarian Middle Ages. Anthropologiai Kozlemenyek 28: 47–54.Google Scholar
  28. Frayer, D. W. (1988). Caries and oral pathologies at the Mesolithic sites of Muge: Cabeço da Arruda and Moita do Sebastião. Trabajo Antropologia e Etnologia 27: 9–25.Google Scholar
  29. Freeth, C. (2000). Dental health in British antiquity. In Cox, M., and Mays, S. (eds.), Human Osteology in Archaeology and Forensic Science, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 227–237.Google Scholar
  30. Glass, G. B. (1991). Continuous eruption and periodontal status in pre-industrial dentitions. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 1: 265–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Grauer, A. L., and McNamara, E. M. (1995). A piece of Chicago’s past: exploring childhood mortality in the Dunning Poorhouse cemetery. In Grauer, A. L. (ed.), Bodies of Evidence: Reconstructing History Through Skeletal Analysis, Wiley-Liss, New York, pp. 91–103.Google Scholar
  32. Haines, M. R. (2004). Growing incomes, shrinking people: can economic development be hazardous to your health? historical evidence for the United States, England, and the Netherlands in the nineteenth century. Social Science History 28: 249–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hardwick, J. L. (1960). The incidence and distribution of caries throughout the ages in relation to the Englishman’s diet. British Dental Journal 108: 9–17.Google Scholar
  34. Harvey, W. (1968). Some dental and social conditions of 1696–1852 connected with St. Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, London. Medical History 12: 62–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hildebolt, C. F., Molnar, S., Elvin-Lewis, M., and McKee, J. K. (1988). The effect of geochemical factors on prevalences of dental diseases for prehistoric inhabitants of the State of Missouri. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 75: 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hills, J., Brewer, M., Jenkins, S. P., Lister, R., Lupton, R., Machin, S., Mills, C., Modood, T., Rees, T., and Riddell, S. (2010). An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK: Report of the National Equality Panel, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, London School of Economics and Political Science, London.Google Scholar
  37. Hillson, S. (1996). Dental Anthropology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hillson, S. (2001). Recording dental caries in archaeological human remains. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 11: 249–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hillson, S. (2005). Teeth, 2nd ed, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hunt, R. J., Drake, C. W., and Beck, J. D. (1992). Streptococcus mutans, lactobacilli, and caries experience in older adults. Special Care in Dentistry 12: 149–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. İşcan, M. Y., Loth, S. R., and Wright, R. K. (1984). Age estimation from the rib by phase analysis: white males. Journal of Forensic Sciences 29: 1094–1104.Google Scholar
  42. İşcan, M. Y., Loth, S. R., and Wright, R. K. (1985). Age estimation from the rib by phase analysis: white females. Journal of Forensic Sciences 30: 853–863.Google Scholar
  43. Källestål, C., and Wall, S. (2002). Socio-economic effect on caries. Incidence data among Swedish 12–14 year-olds. Community Dentistry & Oral Epidemiology 30: 108–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kerr, N. W. (1990). The prevalence and pattern of distribution of root caries in a Scottish medieval population. Journal of Dental Research 69: 857–860.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kerr, N. W., Bruce, M. F., and Cross, J. F. (1988). Caries experience in the permanent dentition of late mediaeval Scots (1300–1600 A.D.). Archives of Oral Biology 33: 143–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Landers, J. (1990). Age patterns of mortality in London during the “long eighteenth century”: a test of the “high potential” model of metropolitan mortality. Social History of Medicine 3: 27–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Landers, J. (1991). London’s mortality in the “long eighteenth century”: a family reconstitution study. Medical History. Supplement 11: 1–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Landers, J. (1993). Death and the Metropolis: Studies in the Demographic History of London 1670–1830, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lanfranco, L. P., and Eggers, S. (2010). The usefulness of caries frequency, depth, and location in determining cariogenicity and past subsistence: a test on early and later agriculturalists from the Peruvian coast. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 143: 75–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Lanphear, K. M. (1990). Frequency and distribution of enamel hypoplasias in a historic skeletal sample. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 81: 35–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Larsen, C. S. (1983). Behavioral implications of temporal change in cariogenesis. Journal of Archaeological Science 10: 1–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Larsen, C. S. (1997). Bioarchaeology: Interpreting Behavior from the Human Skeleton, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Lewis, M. (2007). The Bioarchaeology of Children: Perspectives from Biological and Forensic Anthropology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  54. Locker, D. (2000). Deprivation and oral health: a review. Community Dentistry & Oral Epidemiology 28: 161–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Lovejoy, C. O., Meindl, R. S., Pryzbeck, T. R., and Mensforth, R. P. (1985). Chronological metamorphosis of the auricular surface of the ilium: a new method for the determination of adult skeletal age at death. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 68: 15–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Lukacs, J. R. (1992). Dental paleopathology and agricultural intensification in South Asia: new evidence from Bronze Age Harappa. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 87: 133–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Lukacs, J. R. (1995). The “caries correction factor”: a new method of calibrating dental caries rates to compensate for antemortem tooth loss of teeth. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 5: 151–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Lukacs, J. R. (1996). Sex differences in dental caries rates with the origin of agriculture in South Asia. Current Anthropology 37: 147–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Lukacs, J. R. (2008). Fertility and agriculture accentuate sex differences in dental caries rates. Current Anthropology 49: 901–914.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Lukacs, J. R., and Largaespada, L. L. (2006). Explaining sex differences in dental caries prevalence: saliva, hormones, and “life-history” etiologies. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 18: 540–555.Google Scholar
  61. Lunt, D. A. (1986). Mediaeval dentitions from St Andrews. British Archaeological Reports International Series 291: 215–224.Google Scholar
  62. Maat, G. J. R., and Van der Velde, E. A. (1987). The caries-attrition competition. International Journal of Anthropology 2: 281–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Maitland, W. (1756). The History and Survey of London, T. Osborne and J. Shipton, London.Google Scholar
  64. Marin, V., Hrvoje, B., Mario, S., and Zeljko, D. (2005). The frequency and distribution of caries in the mediaeval population of Bijelo Brdo in Croatia (10th to 11th century). Archives of Oral Biology 50: 669–680.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Mayhall, J. T. (1970). The oral health of a Canadian Inuit community: an anthropological approach. Journal of Dental Research 56(Special Issue C): C55–C60.Google Scholar
  66. Meiklejohn, C., Wyman, J. M., and Schentag, C. T. (1992). Caries and attrition: dependent or independent variables? International Journal of Anthropology 7: 17–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Miles, A. (2010). A post-medieval population from London: excavations in the St Bride’s Lower Churchyard 75–82 Farringdon Street, City of London. EC4. Unpublished Museum of London report, London.Google Scholar
  68. Miles, A. and Conheeney, J. (2005). A post-medieval population from London: Excavations in the St Bride’s Lower Churchyard 75–82 Farringdon Street, City of London, EC4. Unpublished Museum of London report, London.Google Scholar
  69. Mitchell, B. R., and Deane, P. (1962). Abstract of British Historical Statistics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  70. Miura, H., Araki, Y., Haraguchi, K., Arai, Y., and Umenai, T. (1997). Socioeconomic factors and dental caries in developing countries: a cross-national study. Social Science and Medicine 44: 269–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Moore, W. J. (1993). Dental caries in Britain. In Geissler, C., and Oddy, D. J. (eds.), Food, Diet and Economic Change Past and Present, Leicester University Press, Leicester, pp. 50–61.Google Scholar
  72. Moore, W. J., and Corbett, E. (1973). The distribution of dental caries in ancient British populations II, Iron Age, Romano-British and Mediaeval Periods. Caries Research 7: 139–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Moore, W. J., and Corbett, E. (1975). The distribution of dental caries in ancient British populations III, the 17th century. Caries Research 9: 163–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Moore, W. J., and Corbett, E. (1971). The distribution of dental caries in ancient British populations I, Anglo Saxon Period. Caries Research 5: 151–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Nikiforouk, G. (1985). Understanding Dental Caries, Basel Karger, New York.Google Scholar
  76. Olsson, G., and Sagne, S. (1976). Studies of caries prevalence in a mediaeval population. Dentomaxillofacial Radiology 5: 12–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Oranje, P., Noriskan, J. N., and Osborn, T. W. B. (1935–37). The effect of diet upon dental caries in the South African Bantu. South African Journal of Medical Science 1–2: 57–62.Google Scholar
  78. Palubeckaite, Z., Jankauskas, R., Ardagna, Y., Macia, Y., Rigeade, C., Signoli, M., and Dutour, O. (2006). Dental status of Napoleon’s Great Army (1812) mass burial of soldiers in Vilnius: childhood peculiarities and adult dietary habits. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 16: 355–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Pelizzon, S. (2000). Grain flour, 1590–1790. Review (Fernand Braudel Center) 23: 87–195.Google Scholar
  80. Porter, R. (2000). London: A Social History, Penguin, London.Google Scholar
  81. Price, W. A. (1936). Eskimo and Indian field studies in Alaska and Canada. Journal of the American Dental Association 23: 417–437.Google Scholar
  82. Razzell, P. (2007). Population and Disease: Transforming English Society 1550–1850, Caliban, London.Google Scholar
  83. Roberts, C., and Cox, M. (2003). Health and Disease in Britain: From Prehistory to the Present Day, Alan Sutton, Stroud.Google Scholar
  84. Russell, A. L., Consolazio, C. F., and White, C. L. (1961). Dental caries and nutrition in Eskimo scouts of the Alaska National Guard. Journal of Dental Research 40: 594–603.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Russet, A., and Pocock, T. (2004). A History of Chelsea Old Church: the Church that Refused to Die, Chelsea Old Church, London.Google Scholar
  86. Saunders, S. R., De Vito, C., and Katzenberg, M. A. (1997). Dental caries in nineteenth century Upper Canada. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 104: 71–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Scott, J. (1773). Observations on the Present State of the Parochial and Vagrant Poor, Edward and Charles Dilly, London.Google Scholar
  88. Sheppard, F. (1998). London: A History, Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  89. Start, H., and Kirk, L. (1998). “The bodies of Friends”: the osteological analysis of a Quaker burial ground. In Cox, M. (ed.), Grave Concerns: Death and Burial in England 1700–1850, Council for British Archaeology, York, pp. 167–177.Google Scholar
  90. Swärdstedt, T. (1966). Odontological Aspects of a Medieval Population in the Province of Jämtland/Mid-Sweden, Tiden-Barnängen Tryckerier, Stockholm.Google Scholar
  91. Tattersall, I. (1968). Dental palaeopathology of mediaeval Britain. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 23: 380–385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Walker, P. L., and Hewlitt, B. S. (1990). Dental health, diet, and social status among Central African foragers and farmers. American Anthropologist 92: 383–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Weinberger, B. W. (1948). An Introduction to the History of Dentistry, Volume 1, C.V. Mosby, St. Louis.Google Scholar
  94. White, C. D. (1994). Dietary dental pathology and cultural change in the Maya. In Herring, A., and Chan, L. (eds.), Strength in Diversity: A Reader in Physical Anthropology, Canadian Scholars’ Press, Toronto, pp. 279–302.Google Scholar
  95. Whittaker, D. K. (1993). Oral health, in Molleson, T. and Cox, M. (eds.), The Spitalfields Project: Volume 2, The Anthropology, The Middling Sort, Council for British Archaeology Report 6, York, pp. 49–65.Google Scholar
  96. Whittaker, D. K., and Molleson, T. (1996). Caries prevalence in the dentition of a late eighteenth century population. Archives of Oral Biology 41: 55–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Whittaker, D. K., Molleson, T., Bennett, R. B., Edward, I., Jenkins, P. R., and Llewelyn, J. (1981). The prevalence and distribution of dental caries in a Romano-British population. Archives of Oral Biology 26: 237–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Wilkinson, R., and Pickett, K. (2009). The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, Penguin, London.Google Scholar
  99. Williams, N., and Galley, C. (1995). Urban–rural differentials in infant mortality in Victorian England. Population Studies 49: 401–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Wohl, A. S. (1983). Endangered Lives: Public Health in Victorian Britain, Methuen, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  101. Woodward, M., and Walker, A. R. P. (1994). Sugar consumption and dental caries: evidence from 90 countries. British Dental Journal 176: 297–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  102. Wrigley, E. A., and Schofield, R. S. (1981). The Population History of England, 1541–1871, Edward Arnold, London.Google Scholar
  103. Zuckerman, M. K., and Armelagos, G. J. (2011). The origins of biocultural dimensions in bioarchaeology. In Agarwal, S. C., and Glencross, B. A. (eds.), Social Bioarchaeology, Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, pp. 15–43.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  2. 2.Department of ArchaeologyDurham UniversityDurhamUK

Personalised recommendations