Dental disease in a 17th–18th century German community in Jelgava, Latvia


  • Elīna Pētersone-Gordina Department of Archaeology, Durham University, United Kingdom
  • Guntis Gerhards Institute of Latvian History, University of Latvia, Riga, Latvia



skeletal remains, diet, status, childhood stress


Aims: To determine the frequency and distribution of dental caries, periapical lesions, the periodontal disease, ante-mortem tooth loss and enamel hypoplasia in a high status, urban post-medieval population from the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia, and to compare these rates with those obtained from contemporary populations from urban and rural Latvian cemeteries.

Materials: The sample analysed consisted of the dental remains of 108 individuals (39 male, 42 female and 27 non-adults) excavated from the Jelgava Holy Trinity Church cemetery in Latvia. A total of 1,233 teeth and 1,853 alveoli were examined.

Results: The frequency of the observed conditions in this population was overall high but not anomalous for the post-medieval period in Latvia. The differences between the age and the sex groups when comparing the number of individuals affected were not significant. The number of teeth and/or alveoli affected by caries, the periodontal disease and the ante-mortem tooth loss proved to be significantly higher in females than males in both age groups and in total. The prevalence of enamel hypoplasia was high in both sex groups.

Conclusions: The overall high rates of destructive dental diseases in this population were linked to the diet high in soft carbohydrates and refined sugars. The significant differences between the number of teeth and alveoli in male and female dentitions affected by caries, the periodontal disease and the ante-mortem tooth loss were linked to a differential diet, as well as high fertility demands and differences in the composition of male and female saliva. The large number of the adult individuals affected by enamel hypoplasia proved that most of the population was subject to severe metabolic stress episodes during childhood, but that many children were likely to survive these hardships into adulthood. The comparison with other contemporary populations proved that all the Holy Trinity Church cemetery population had an equally high prevalence of dental diseases, especially with regards to other urban populations.


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