Tooth decay was the major problem for our ancestors 9,000 years ago

Tooth decay was the major problem for our ancestors 9,000 years ago
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Tooth decay was the major problem for our ancestors 9,000 years ago

Archeological research shows that tooth decay is not a modern problem. Archeologists at Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw (UKSW), Poland, have proposed diets heavy in fruit and honey contributed to poor dental hygiene during the European Mesolithic between 15,000 and 5,000 years ago.

Ancient tooth decay is related to the development of farming and the transition in lifestyle. In particular, the advent of processed, wheat-based foods and more settled life was thought to be big contributors.

The earliest agricultural societies emerged in Poland 7,000 years earlier and, as a result, the archaeologists were surprised to find a form of tooth decay known as carious lesions (caries) was already an issue thousands of years earlier among hunter-gatherer communities.

Such people mainly eat vegetables, nuts, berries, as well as hunted prey including fish. Mesolithic teeth and jaws unearthed in northeast Poland show cavities were present among adults and children alike

Researchers have found evidence of tooth decay among Mesolithic people
Researchers have found evidence of tooth decay among Mesolithic people

Professor Jacek Tomczyk from UKSW told the Polish Press Agency (PAP): “We detected caries on the teeth of a three-year-old child and two adults.”

Tooth decay is caused by bacteria in the mouth coating teeth in a film known as dental plaque. Foods high in carbohydrates and sugars help the bacteria turn the plaque and carbohydrates into energy, producing acid in the process.

The acid can break down the surface of teeth, creating small holes or cavities. We detected caries on the teeth of a three-year-old child and two adult professor Jacek Tomczyk, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw

Professor Tomczyk said: “For our analysis, we used a fluorescent camera and various X-ray imaging methods.

“This way we detected caries that were not a great loss of enamel.”

Thanks to carbon and nitrogen dating, the researchers were able to learn what these ancient people ate. Their hunter-gatherer diets were rich in various freshwater fish. Surprisingly, eating fish may have been critical in preventing the teeth from decaying any further.

Jaw and teeth of a 3-year-old child discovered in Pierkunowo-Giżycko. Dental material of a child (3-year-old)
Jaw and teeth of a 3-year-old child discovered in Pierkunowo-Giżycko. Dental material of a child (3-year-old)

Professor Krzysztof Szostek, a UKSW anthropologist, said: “To a large extent, they consumed fish, probably sturgeons.

“Freshwater fish contain arginine, which has anti-cavity properties.

“This substance is even added to some toothpaste.

“So it looks like it was thanks to their diet the caries did not develop any further.”

The findings were presented in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. In their study, the archaeologists wrote: “Based on the data presented, it can be concluded that the diet of the test individuals was probably based largely on freshwater fish.

“This hypothesis is all the more likely because the remains of the studied individuals were excavated from post-glacial lakes within a short distance from Lake Kisajno in Masuria.

“This type of diet does not generate caries.

“The diet definitely included plant foods, including forest plants, as well as mushrooms, which have a higher carbon content than grass.”

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Jessica Saraceni has been a part of Histecho Since 2018, drawn to the site for its quirky character and through Articles about the Mysteries of earth and human behavior. previously, she was an assistant editor and Research fellow at Archaeology magazine, where she gained an appreciation for the field work. A master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental science from the Center for Archaeological Research, the University of Texas at San Antonio. She enjoys all forms of exercise; reading works by her favorite author, Haruki Murakami; and playing with her sons.