Stigmatized biologies: Examining the cumulative effects of oral health disparities for Mexican American farmworker children

Med Anthropol Q. 2010 Jun;24(2):199-219. doi: 10.1111/j.1548-1387.2010.01097.x.


Severe early childhood caries (ECC) can leave lasting effects on children's physical development, including malformed oral arches and crooked permanent dentition. This article examines the way that the ECC of Mexican American farmworker children in the United States sets them up for lasting dental problems and social stigma as young adults. We examine the role of dietary and environmental factors in contributing to what we call "stigmatized biologies," and that of market-based dental public health insurance systems in cementing their enduring effects. We adapt Margaret Lock's term, local biology, to illustrate the way that biology differs not only because of culture, diet, and environment but also because of disparities in insurance coverage. By showing the long-term effects of ECC and disparate dental treatment on farmworker adults, we show how the interaction of immigrant caregiving practices and underinsurance can having lasting social effects. An examination of the long-term effects of farmworker children's ECC illustrates the ways that market-based health care systems can create embodied differences that in turn reproduce a system of social inequality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Child
  • Emigrants and Immigrants
  • Family Characteristics
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Dental
  • Mexican Americans*
  • Oral Health / standards*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Transients and Migrants