Thousands of years ago, people didn’t floss. They didn’t have toothbrushes, and they probably didn’t make any effort to clean their teeth. Yet, based on archaeological discoveries, their oral health was much better than ours today.
Alan Cooper, director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, says:
Hunter-gatherers had really good teeth,[but] as soon as you get to farming populations, you see this massive change. Huge amounts of gum disease. And cavities start cropping up.
Scientists say it’s because of our diets.
Cooper and his researchers studied calcified plaque on the teeth of 34 prehistoric human skeletons. They identified the composition of bacteria in mouths, and found that it changed as the human diet transitioned from meat, vegetables and nuts to carbs and sugar.
Some of those microbes are protective, but other oral bacteria facilitate tooth decay. The researchers found that some types of disease-causing bacteria had evolved to using carbohydrates, and over time these crowded out the more friendly bacteria. The situation deteriorated during the Industrial Revolution, when people began to add processed flour and sugar to their diets.
According to Cooper:
What you’ve really created is an ecosystem which is very low in diversity and full of opportunistic pathogens that have jumped in to utilize the resources which are now free.
You’re walking around with a permanent immune response, which is not a good thing. It causes problems all over the place.
Modern people have harmful bacteria present in our mouths on an ongoing basis, which means we are constantly in a state of disease. That includes not just oral disease – these bacteria support diabetes, obesity, even cardiovascular disease.
Cooper says bacteria comprises 90 percent of the cells in our bodies, and he believes there is too little attention paid to this so-called microbiome.
We brush our teeth and we floss, and we think that we’ve got good oral hygiene. But [we’re] completely failing to deal with the underlying problem. Ten years from now, I think we’re going to find that the whole microbiome is a key part of what you get monitored for and treated for
If you want to take the first step toward the kind of oral health our ancient ancestors enjoyed, eat the way they did. Begin by clearing your diet of processed carbohydrates, and focusing on vegetables, fruits and meat.