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Our teeth are whiter, shinier, and straighter than those of our ancestors. But in terms of cavities and tooth decay, we’re far behind our Neolithic forbears, according to research published in scientific journal Nature Genetics. In today’s blog post our Steele Creek general dentist dives into this incredible discovery, and explains why, despite all of our incredible technology, modern humanity’s still lacks bite.
From Carnivores to Omnivores: Why Our Teeth Changed
In order to reach their startling conclusion, researchers at the Australian Center for Ancient DNA extracted dental plaque from 34 prehistoric European skeletons. They then compared the changes in oral bacteria to remains from the Neolithic, medieval, Industrial Revolution, and modern eras. They found that, as the centuries went on, humans developed higher and higher rates of tooth decay. What could be the cause of this phenomenon?
The researchers proposed that the switch most likely occurred as humans transitioned from a mostly carnivorous diet, to a diet high in grains and wheat. This is because carbohydrates and sugars, two substances that are rare in the wild, are both favorite foods of bacteria that destroy tooth enamel. Things became even worse around the industrial revolution, when sugary sweets became commonplace breakfasts rather than holiday treats.
Essentially, researchers concluded, the bacterial balance in our mouths has shifted from favoring the beneficial, towards favoring the harmful. No matter how much we brush, floss, and rinse, our body is constantly fighting off tooth-destroying agents.
The conclusion? While the advent of agriculture might have revolutionized our overall quality of life, our teeth didn’t come out of it so shiny.
So, the “Paleo Dieters” are Right?
Well, yes and no. Despite claims made by some adherents of the Paleo Diet (which, to be clear, is not reflective of an actual paleolithic diet), prehistoric peoples did not live a healthier and more disease-free life than we do. This hypothesis comes from scientists such as Debbie Guatelli-Steinberg, an anthropologist at the Ohio State University, who studied linear markings on ancient enamel called hypoplasias. These markings occur when enamel formation stops for a short period due to genetic or environmental causes, similar to tree rings. Guatelli-Steinberg found that some disruptions in formation were quite long, suggesting that despite what some modern health gurus will tell you, disease and malnutrition did indeed plague the Neanderthals.
Take Care of Your Teeth Here and Now with Our Steele Creek Dentist!
While we can’t do anything for our unfortunate ancestors, we can help you keep your teeth healthy, clean and strong as possible! You can also help by switching to a diet that is low in sugar and starch, and high in proteins, nuts, and vegetables. If you would like to request an appointment with our Steele Creek dentist office, please click here to fill out our contact form.