Your Ancient Ancestors Had Better Teeth Than You

By: The Scribe on Friday, March 1, 2013

That’s right—if you lived in ancient times, it’s entirely possible that your dental bill would have been a fraction of what it is today! Discounting, of course, the lack of dentists in ancient times. But you get the idea.

A team headed by Professor Alan Cooper, the director of the University of Adelaide Center for Ancient DNA, recently published a research study that looked at teeth from northern European human skeletons, comparing what they found with the oral bacteria commonly found in a modern human’s mouth.

The result? The modern human had oral bacterial that was far less diverse than what was found on the ancient skeletons—and that’s a bad thing. According to Cooper, the loss of bacterial diversity “is nearly always associated with disease,” along with links to diabetes, obesity, and even autism.

The study suggested that modern food—flour and sugar, to be precise—account for this reduction of good bacteria. And when the bad bacteria flourish, so does tooth decay and gum disease. So, how can you get your teeth back to their shiny, ancient selves? Reduce processed sugars and carbohydrates, and “eat a wide variety of organic locally produced fresh foods,” says Cooper.

The study’s research showed that the composition of oral bacteria changed significantly around 7500 years ago, around the time farming became a widespread practice. Once processed foods were introduced during the industrial revolution, things got even worse.

Your prehistoric ancestors didn’t have cavities in the way we know them, and it’s thought that bad breath wasn’t an issue on their radar.

And in case you think the study just came from a bunch of crunchy-granola hippies who want you to brush your teeth, think again! The researchers worked on this project for 17 years before releasing the results of their study, which used extracted DNA from tartar on 34 human skeletons from prehistoric northern Europe.

The study then traced the changes in the composition and nature of oral bacteria from those early hunter-gathers, up through to the Bronze Age’s first farmers and even Medieval times.

The team plans to continue their study, looking at other locations around the world during ancient times and other times, to see if this trend happened elsewhere during the period as well.

In other words? If you want to live like a caveman, fine—just make sure you brush your teeth.


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