In the news: Jomon women may also have suffered from sweet tooth

Friday, Oct. 24, 2008 Kyodo News

It has been argued that Japanese women like sweets and snacks more than men do. To test this theory, take a look at a typical office around 3 p.m.

This is the “oyatsu” (snack) time, when many younger female workers dip into their stash of chocolates and other goodies.

This theory may also apply to the Japanese of several thousand years ago, according to a group of anthropologists in Niigata.

The team headed by Hisashi Fujita, an associate professor at Niigata College of Nursing, found that Japanese women in ancient times were more prone to tooth decay than men, which the researchers say indicates they were more prone to dig into snacks.

The team looked at teeth from about 270 people of the Jomon Period (about 10,000 B.C. to 400 B.C.), and found that those from women aged 40 and older had suffered more decay than any other demographic.

According to the group, an estimated 1 percent to 3 percent of hunting people in world history had significant tooth decay, but the rate for the Jomon people was far higher, at 8 percent. This indicates the Jomon diet was high in starch, which can cause tooth decay, the group said.

“The variety of food should have been limited compared with current times, but cookies mainly made of acorns and chestnuts have been discovered from the Jomon Period,” Fujita said.

“We think the women of that time liked eating snacks,” he said.

Unlike modern people, most of the decay was found at the root of the teeth. This indicates the Jomon people probably didn’t brush and food particles accumulated in the gaps between their teeth.

Few back teeth of the Jomon people suffered decay, the team found. This is probably because the surface of the back teeth were typically worn down as they ate food mixed with fine sand and often chewed on animal leather to soften it, said Kazumichi Katayama, a professor of anthropology at Kyoto University.

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