Gum disease and tooth decay are one of the most widespread public health concerns in the United States. An estimated 92% of adults age 20 and older have one or more permanent teeth with dental caries (tooth decay). The CDC reports that 47.2% of adults age 30 and older have some form of periodontal disease (gum disease). Media often places the blame entirely on increased sugar in our modern diets, but this is not entirely true. An archeological discovery from 2014 found that the same bacteria that cause decay and gum disease today did so 1,000 years ago.
Plaque: A Window into the Past
A team of researchers lead by Dr. Christina Warinner, of the University of Zurich and the University of Oklahoma, discovered 1,000-year-old human remains in Germany with preserved dental plaque. When plaque forms on teeth, it traps food particles, which bacteria eat. Over time, plaque hardens into tartar, and eventually into calculus. Dentist tools remove this sticky, hard bacteria stronghold, but little else can. Fortunately for the research team, 1,000s of years also won’t remove calculus.
Each skeleton had years of plaque buildup on their teeth, indicating that they did not practice regular oral hygiene. The team used a rapid DNA test called “shotgun sequencing” to analyze the calculus, and discovered food particles and bacteria still trapped under the hard shell. Their discovery provided some of the first particle evidence of what ancient humans consumed, which included pork, sheep, vegetables, wheat from bread, and some cereals.
Despite advances in modern medicine and some changes in diet, the bacteria found on these ancient teeth were remarkably similar to the primary offenders today. Some of the bacteria discovered even showed a certain amount of antibiotic resistance found in many modern bacteria. The team hopes that their discovery will help medical researchers learn more about these oral bacteria in order to find new ways to combat them.
Wild Animals Vs. Humans
Most primate populations and wild animals do not usually experience tooth decay, but many domesticated animals and zoo populations do. At first glance, it seems as though our domesticated lifestyle causes decreased oral health, but that may not be entirely true either. Part of what makes the German remains so incredible is that they show that modern factors are not the only cause of caries and periodontal disease. Even humans 1,000 years ago suffered from poor oral health caused by the same bacteria as today. Future research involving these remains could reveal why humans and domesticated animals seem more prone to oral disease in order to help us eliminate it once and for all.
Preventative Dental Care
In the mean time, you can protect yourself from oral disease with preventative dental care. At home, get into the habit of brushing and flossing at least twice a day to remove bacteria. You should also visit a dentist twice a year for dental cleanings to remove any plaque that has calcified into tartar or calculus.
In the event that you do develop dental caries, dentistry can help to remove the decay and protect your damaged tooth from further decay. Ignoring signs of caries or gum disease can cause increased tooth pain, infections, tooth loss, and destruction of the surrounding jawbone. Oral health problems have also been linked to heart disease and other adverse health conditions.
To learn more about how preventing oral disease can protect your overall health, please call (407) 834-6446 to set up an appointment with Orlando dentist, Dr. Weinstock today.