Dental Health of the Santa Maria Cathedral Burial Population (12th-19th Century), Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
AdvisorScott, Richard G.
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Despite increasingly advanced dental care, the dental health of the residents of Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain declined from the medieval (<1500 CE) to post-medieval (>1500 CE) period. Frequencies of caries, abscesses and antemortem tooth loss increased with time, mirroring trends seen elsewhere in Spain and Europe. The dramatic decline in European dental health is attributed to an increase in the availability of sugarcane derived sugars from the New World, as refined carbohydrates are the most cariogenic of all foods. Sugarcane was introduced to Spain by 711 CE but grew poorly given environmental constraints, and the high cost of production and shipping kept sugar out of reach of all but the upper class. Columbus's introduction of sugarcane into the tropical climate of what is now the Dominican Republic changed that. The New World plantations quickly out-produced other European sources, and the introduction of slave labor reduced production costs to the point that by the 17th century, sugar was within the reach of the middle and lower classes of Europe, much to the detriment of their dental, and overall, health.