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Isotope analysis of human dental calculus δ13 CO3 2-: investigating a potential new proxy for sugar consumption

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Publication details

JournalRapid communications in mass spectrometry
DateAccepted/In press - 1 Mar 2022
DateE-pub ahead of print - 8 Mar 2022
DatePublished (current) - 25 Mar 2022
Number of pages14
Early online date8/03/22
Original languageEnglish


RATIONALE Dental calculus (mineralized dental plaque) is composed primarily of hydroxyapatite. We hypothesize that the carbonate component of dental calculus will reflect the isotopic composition of ingested simple carbohydrates. Therefore, dental calculus carbonates may be an indicator for sugar consumption, and an alternative to bone carbonate in isotopic paleodiet studies.

METHODS: We utilised FTIR-ATR analysis to characterise the composition and crystallisation of bone and dental calculus before isotope analysis of carbonate. Using a Sercon 20-22 mass spectrometer coupled with a Sercon GSL Sample Preparation System and an IsoPrime 100 dual inlet mass spectrometer plus Multiprep device to measure carbon, we tested the potential of dental calculus carbonate to identify C4 resources in diet through analysis of δ13 C values in paired bone, calculus, and teeth mineral samples.

RESULTS: The modern population shows higher δ13 C values in all three tissue carbonates compared to both archaeological populations. Clear differences in dental calculus δ13 C values are observed between the modern and archaeological individuals suggesting potential for utilising dental calculus in isotope paleodiet studies. The offset between dental calculus and either bone or enamel carbonate δ13 C values are large and consistent in direction, with no consistent offset between the δ13 C values for the three tissues per individual.

CONCLUSIONS: Our results support dental calculus carbonate as a new biomaterial to identify C4 sugar through isotope analysis. Greater carbon fractionation in the mouth is likely due to the complex formation of dental calculus as a mineralized biofilm, which results in consistently high δ13 C values compared to bone and enamel.

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© 2022 The Authors

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