Modern medicine and diets have paved the way for longer life expectancies, with many humans living into their 80s, 90s and even well into the 100s. In many ways, humans are healthier than they’ve ever been. On the other hand, in some ways they aren’t. Modern people eat more and move less than their ancient ancestors. Additionally, according to a recent study, today’s men and women actually have worse dental health than prehistoric humans who lived hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Ancient People Had Good Teeth
A study conducted by researchers at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA has demonstrated that ancient humans had far better dental health when compared to their modern descendants. According to lead researcher Alan Cooper, because prehistoric humans enjoyed the perfect balance of good oral bacteria; they suffered far fewer cavities and infections. Archaeological research suggests that these ancient humans were able to cultivate and maintain these healthy bacteria by eating a more natural diet based on hunting and gathering. Unfortunately, as human nature changed, so did their teeth.
How Things Changed
Based on data from his study, Cooper blames dietary changes for the decline of human oral health. As they switched to more productive agricultural-based diets, humans shifted from nuts, vegetables and meats toward starchy foods which are rich in carbohydrates. Things got even worse over the past few hundred years, thanks to the Industrial Revolution which led to a growing prevalence of diets which are rich in sugar and white flour. Over time, this gradual but extreme shift in diet has allowed more troublesome strains of bacteria to take over human mouths, leading to the common dental problems we see today.
Modern Foods Assault Our Teeth
According to Dr. Brad Durham, who runs a dental practice in Savannah, Georgia, today’s foods put teeth under a constant assault from harmful bacteria that promote decay.
“The modern food you’ll find inside a grocery store is chock full of sugar and acidic ingredients that promote cavities,” he said. “Unfortunately, the increasing popularity of acidic energy drinks and sodas is adding to the problem. Things are so bad, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that half of all Americans have some form of periodontal disease, while one in five currently suffers from at least one untreated cavity.”
Keeping Bacteria at Bay
Right now, brushing and flossing remain the best ways to prevent tooth decay. That said, professional dental checkups are a must for modern humans, who face a constant onslaught from harmful oral bacteria. According to Cooper, his research demonstrates that while effective, brushing and flossing are merely ways to cover up a fundamental problem, which began hundreds of thousands of years ago.
- License: Creative Commons image source
Ryan Lawrence writes for Off-Topic Media. Thanks to Dr. Brad Durham for his contributions to this story.