Dental health may deteriorate in populations exposed to economic growth as a result of easier access to refined carbohydrates and sugars. Such changes affected migrant labourers working in Kimberley, South Africa, during the late 19th century. A rescue excavation salvaged several skeletons from pauper’s graves dating from this period, and the purpose of the study was to assess their dental health to determine whether it
concurs with historical statements suggesting that the skeletal population sample being investigated was migrant labourers with limited access to a healthy diet. According to historic sources their diets mainly consisted of ground carbohydrates and occasional meat. The permanent dentition of 79 males and 13 females (majority between 20 and 49 years of age) were examined. Carious lesions were observed in 57% of males and 46.2% of females with an average of 2.7 and
3.8 carious teeth per mouth. The anterior teeth were significantly less affected than the posterior teeth. Periodontal granulomata (‘abscesses’) were observed in 17.7% of males and 15.4% of females, and periodontal disease affected 40% of those investigated. Antemortem tooth loss (AMTL) was recorded in 29% (N¼27) of the sample with an average of 3.5 teeth lost per mouth. It was concluded that the prevalence of dental caries, periapical granulomata and periodontal disease as well as the pattern of AMTL observed concurs with dietary descriptions for paupers in historical documents. The relatively low prevalence of carious lesions can be ascribed to the limited time migrant labourers spent in Kimberley and the labour restrictions they had to comply with during their stay in the compounds.