Ancient Maya Dentistry: New Evidence for Therapeutic Dental Interventions and Dental Care Practices

Author(s): Joshua Schnell

Year: 2021


This is an abstract from the "Approaches to the Archaeology of Health: Sewers, Snakebites, and Skeletons" session, at the 86th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

The ancient Maya are often highly regarded for their skill in dentistry—evidenced by longstanding traditions of filing and inlaying teeth. These procedures had a considerable success rate suggesting a pervasive knowledge of dental anatomy among practitioners. However, this study of aesthetic practices has overshadowed the study of the therapeutic interventions and hygienic practices. These aspects of Maya dentistry are often taken for granted and have received comparatively little attention despite archaeological, iconographic, and textual evidence attesting to the importance of oral health. This paper derives from an ongoing dissertation project aiming to assess oral care practices in the Maya lowlands through a large-scale bioarchaeological study of dentitions. Using a multiphase methodology including optical microscopy, dental casting techniques, and scanning electron microscopy, this project seeks to evaluate the prevalence and spatiotemporal distribution of dental interventions such as tooth cleaning, toothpicking, caries manipulation, and dental extractions in the Maya lowlands. It also contextualizes these practices within their social, cultural, and economic milieu, including patient-practitioner networks, urbanism and access to care, and models of market exchange. Here I report on preliminary results of this ongoing study.

Cite this Record

Ancient Maya Dentistry: New Evidence for Therapeutic Dental Interventions and Dental Care Practices. Joshua Schnell. Presented at The 86th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. 2021 ( tDAR id: 466915)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -94.197; min lat: 16.004 ; max long: -86.682; max lat: 21.984 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 32614