These human teeth and plenty more have been found across Jamestown Island in non-burial contexts like pits and trash middens. They all display dental caries, the term bioarchaeologists use for cavities. Caries form when acid from dental plaque and bacteria feeding on trapped food particles eat away at the outer layer of tooth enamel, eventually reaching the dentin layer and even the pulp chamber inside the tooth. Severe caries can lead to abscesses and infection, which are painful and potentially dangerous if the infection travels farther throughout the body. Poor dental hygiene leads to a buildup of debris that forms a perfect environment for these processes, as modern dentists are constantly warning!
Certain foods are much more likely to contribute to dental caries than others. Sugar is a well-known culprit, but all kinds of carbohydrates including wheat bread, corn, and fruit are more cariogenic than protein heavy foods like meat. The prevalence and severity of caries observed in an individual or a population can help bioarchaeologists make inferences about diet and the relative importance of carbohydrates and protein.
While these isolated teeth are hard to include in a statistical assessment of caries in the Jamestown population, they do provide some contextual information about the treatment of dental ailments. These loose teeth were found in a variety of non-burial contexts including trash deposits, indicating that they were discarded after they fell out. Plyers intended for tooth extraction have been excavated at Jamestown, although just one of these particular teeth shows direct evidence of having been extracted with iron implements which often damaged or broke the teeth as they were removed.