Ötzi the Iceman and his Unfortunate Dental Problems

The oldest wet mummy in the world, Ötzi, was found in a melting glacier just over 20 years ago in the Italian Alps. The 5,300 year old prehistoric iceman had a problem that many people seem to have even thousands of years later: bad teeth and stinky breath.

During Ötzi’s time, agriculture was becoming a larger part of the human diet, so much of his dental problems stemmed from starches which slowly eroded his teeth. Toothbrushes weren’t around back then, but tiny fragments of stones from grinding flour may have helped keep his teeth from getting even worse. The abrasive surface helped chip away at plaque, but many of his teeth looked like they were severely worn down, researchers say that he probably had a habit of chewing on a small stone as well.

Ötzi also displayed many oral diseases and dental problems including severe abrasions and advanced periodontitis.  The rear molars were especially full of problems: researchers found loss of the periodontal supporting tissue that nearly reached the tip of the root. The Neolithic iceman also had some mechanical trauma on some of his front teeth, likely from some sort of fall or accident.

Like many living in that period of time, Ötzi lived a hard life, he was the world’s first known carrier of Lyme disease, died from murder around age 46, was lactose intolerant, and was predisposed to heart disease.  Some of the iceman’s favorite foods included goat meat with bread–which was consequently his last meal—as well as starches like cereal, and porridge. He also had a large beard and tattoos on his body.

The Neolithic man’s teeth had not been studied in great deal since they first uncovered the mummy on the border of Italy and Austria in 1991. 3D scans of Ötzi‘s teeth have now been able to tell us much more about his pre-disposition for diseases, eating habits, and daily life.