In a recent study by the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, researchers compared the evolving state of tooth decay from Mesolithic-era humans to the modern day man and woman. The findings originated from the dental plaque of 34 prehistoric human skeletons which were found in northern Europe and were then compared to those in the Bronze Age, Medieval period, and the present.
The change in dental plaque started to evolve in our ancestor’s teeth once people learned how to farm thousands of years ago, and changed again 150 years ago during the industrial revolution. Once people started consuming grain and refined sugars, they started to get cavities and gingivitis, much like we do now. Scientists are now looking more in depth at the correlation between heart disease and oral care with these recent findings in mind.
Dental plaque is the easiest source to extract a person’s preserved bacteria; after the study, it was concluded that the bacterial diversity was more extensive in the Mesolithic people. Before the industrial revolution, their mouths were more resilient to stresses and were far less likely to become diseased.
The diet back then was what we now call the Paleodiet, consisting of mainly fresh vegetables and lean meats. The change from healthier foods to more white flour and sugar in our diets has converted much of the good bacteria in our mouths to the bad, tooth decaying kind. Alongside having less heart and gum disease, our ancestors likely had fresher breath than us, too!
The study confirmed what we already knew all along, that eating healthy is good for our teeth. If we cut down on our sugary treats, processed foods, and white flour we can be well on our way to having healthy mouths like those who came before us.