For those who think that tooth decay is a modern curse, researchers have found that Ötzi, the 5,000 year-old ice mummy, was riddled with it.
Researchers from the Centre for Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich have been able to provide the first evidence of Ötzi’s tooth decay and periodontitis (gum disease which leads to the loss of the tissue that supports the teeth), as well as teeth that he accidentally chipped.
Dentist Roger Seiler said: “The loss of the periodontium has always been a very common disease, as the discovery of Stone Age skulls and the examination of Egyptian mummies has shown. Ötzi allows us an especially good insight into such an early stage of this disease.”
Seiler found that Ötzi’s rear molars were particularly affected by advanced periodontitis and severe bone loss. Dental abrasion had also led to the loss of more than half of the crowns in his front teeth. The discoloration of his chipped front tooth was still clearly visible and one molar had lost a cusp, possibly when Ötzi chewed on something like a small stone in his food.
Ötzi is unlikely to have ever cleaned his teeth and his tooth decay would have been aggravated by a diet of starchy foods, such as bread and cereal porridge, which were eaten more commonly after farming reached Europe around 9,000 years ago. Ötzi’s hunter-gatherer ancestors had a relative absence of tooth decay and gum disease, but the Agricultural Revolution and the domestication of crops such as wheat and barley changed that. When the Industrial Revolution brought much more refined grains and concentrated sugar, tooth decay and gum disease became much more prevalent.
Ötzi would have been considered elderly in the Neolithic but, despite his dental problems, he still had all of his teeth when he died in his mid-40s.
Source: University of Zurich