In DepthAnthropology

In surprise, tooth decay afflicts hunter-gatherers

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  28 Apr 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6336, pp. 362
DOI: 10.1126/science.356.6336.362

You are currently viewing the summary.

View Full Text


Paleoanthropologists were startled when they discovered recently that the Hadza hunter-gatherers of Tanzania have terrible teeth. That's because it is received wisdom in anthropology that prehistoric hunter-gatherers, subsisting on meat and wild plants, rarely had cavities. Teeth supposedly began rotting only when such societies made the transition to agriculture and adopted a diet rich in sugar and starch from grains. But two new studies of the Hadza, modern hunter-gatherers in the midst of that transition, now suggest the story is not that simple. For Hadza men, at least, shifting to a diet of agricultural products actually improves dental health. But for Hadza women, the farmers' diet is a dental disaster, and it damages the teeth of toddlers as well, particularly boys.