Relationships between dental pathology and ancestry from the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center pauper cemetery

In order to assess variation in oral health, hygiene, and diet within the Santa Clara County Valley Medical Center pauper cemetery, pathological conditions of the teeth and jaws were analyzed by ancestry group. Utilizing a biocultural approach for analyzing pathological conditions, this study aims at understanding the interactions of sociocultural constructs and biology in a late 19th and early 20th century pauper cemetery. A total of 40 individuals from the Valley Medical Center (VMC) collection was analyzed for carious lesions, alveolar abscesses, dental attrition, and antemortem tooth loss. These individuals were separated into ancestry groups using dental morphological methods of ancestry estimation. As this skeletal collection is very poorly preserved, it was hypothesized that dental morphology would be a more reliable method of ancestry estimation than previously employed cranial methods. Analysis of the ancestry estimation results indicate that all of the previously indeterminate individuals were able to be estimated using dental morphology, though to what degree of accuracy is unknown. It was hypothesized that there would be variation in the frequency and type of dental pathology between the estimated ancestry groups. It was predicted that the greatest frequency of pathological conditions of the dentition would be seen among the non-white ancestry groups due to differences in access to healthcare and overall diet. Results of these data indicate that there is a significant difference in the number of carious lesions between white and non-white groups; however, the prediction was not supported. More significant dental pathology was observed among the white ancestry group, possibly indicating a lack of access to proper nutrition and healthcare, or diets more reliant on refined sugars. This project highlights the limitations of using dental pathology for indications of social status when working with a small sample size, as well as the inherent difficulty in estimating ancestry from skeletal remains.