Ancient teeth were healthier

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skullFollowing on from research done by the University of Adelaide a couple of years ago, Irish researchers have concluded that hunter-gatherers had almost no malocclusion and dental crowding, and the condition first became common among the world’s earliest farmers some 12,000 years ago in Southwest Asia. In a nutshell, ancient teeth were healthier than modern ones.

Previously, international researchers working with the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide found that Mesolithic hunter-gatherers living on a meat-dominated, grain-free diet had much healthier mouths that we have today, with almost no cavities and gum disease-associated bacteria.

The most recent findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE, involved analysing the lower jaws and teeth crown dimensions of 292 archaeological skeletons from the Levant, Anatolia and Europe, from between 28,000–6,000 years ago.

“Our analysis shows that the lower jaws of the world’s earliest farmers in the Levant, are not simply smaller versions of those of the predecessor hunter-gatherers, but that the lower jaw underwent a complex series of shape changes commensurate with the transition to agriculture,” says Professor Ron Pinhasi from the UCD School of Archaeology and UCD Earth Institute, University College Dublin, the lead author on the study.

“Our findings show that the hunter gatherer populations have an almost “perfect harmony” between their lower jaws and teeth,” he explains. “But this harmony begins to fade when you examine the lower jaws and teeth of the earliest farmers”.

The diet of the hunter-gatherer was based on “hard” foods like wild uncooked vegetables and meat, while the staple diet of the sedentary farmer is based on “soft” cooked or processed foods like cereals and legumes. With soft cooked foods there is less of a requirement for chewing which in turn lessens the size of the jaws but without a corresponding reduction in the dimensions of the teeth, there is no adequate space in the jaws and this often results in malocclusion and dental crowding.

The link between chewing, diet, and related dental wear patterns is well known in the scientific literature.

Add this to the already-known findings that the composition of bacteria in the mouth changed with the introduction of farming and again 150 years ago during the Industrial Revolution. In contrast to the hunter-gatherer and early agriculturist diet, a modern diet full of refined carbohydrates and sugars has given us mouths dominated by cavity-causing bacteria.

You can see the appeal of the ‘paleolithic diet’—one that is high in meat, low in grains.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. “….You can see the appeal of the ‘paleolithic diet’—one that is high in meat, low in grains.”…..

    No. I really can’t.

    Apart from some questionable orthodontic argument*, the ‘paleo’ fad is based on flimsy pseudo-science, and has no proven benefits.

    Science, and the peer-reviewed research it’s based on, has shown time and again that a low-meat, vegetarian diet – that includes fish – results in longevity and lower disease rates (think mediterranean or the Japanese diets).

    *The other factor left out from the article is the more recent effects of population migration, and the advent of the age of sail. For tens of thousands of years populations were stable, tribe-based and stayed within a limited area, often cut off from other peoples by geographic constraints. This resulted in a gene pool that was fairly stagnant. In more recent times, the net effect of the inter-mingling of tribes and peoples meant that dad’s teeth and mum’s jaws would result in the orthodontic discrepancies we see today.

  2. “…dad’s teeth and mum’s jaws would result in the orthodontic discrepancies we see today.”- jdw is probably an elderly (retired) orthodontist of the old Begg school BECAUSE they are the only living “science” trained people that actually still believe in this false suburban housewife myth. Ha ha ha

  3. Hi Karl, thanks for posting but your comments are simply erroneous:
    – I’m not that old (middle aged)
    – not retired
    – and not an orthodontist………….

    ….the irony of the mum/dad dichotomy viz the gene pool argument was clearly lost on you, I see..??..!!

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