Dental care is a major part of personal health. And with about 46.5 million surgical procedures occurring every year, there are tons of dental procedures performed on patients around the United States. But while dental procedures can tell a lot about people’s dental health today, a new study shows that the bacteria in our mouths have changed immensely since the Middle Ages.
Remains buried in a medieval Danish cemetery were recently studied and the dental examinations showed interesting results. Biochemist Rosa Jersie-Christensen of the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research and her colleagues looked at hardened dental plaque, which is called calculus, from the remains of 21 men who lived in a Danish village between 1100 and 1450 CE.
Men were chosen for the study because generally, male immune systems have stronger inflammatory responses. This would give the researchers a better chance of finding the proteins associated with inflammation. And the proteins and bacteria that were found shed light on the lives they lived.
According to Biochemist Enrico Cappellini of the Natural History Museum of Denmark, a coauthor on the study, “We were ultimately able to reconstruct which bacteria thrived in the mouth of medieval villagers and which physiological/pathological processes were going on there.”
The researchers found that overall, the dental health of the men was exactly what would be expected of a villager in medieval times — not great. Every subject that was studied showed signs of gum disease and minor cavities. A lot of the men had even lost some of their teeth.
Fortunately, the calculus allowed the researchers to gain insight regarding the proteins, bacteria, and even food in the men’s mouths. There were 3,761 proteins identified in the samples, with 50 of them coming from blood plasma — which shows a chance of bleeding gums. But most of the proteins were produced by bacteria from the microbiome.
The bacteria and proteins present in the samples showed that the men had very similar lifestyles and diets — quite unlike people today. The proteins in the calculus suggested their diet consisted of dairy and goat milk and plenty of oats. Jersie-Christensen and her colleagues say their research shows that a lot can be said about a person’s overall oral health by looking at differences in bacteria populations.
Fortunately, today’s dental care is more reliable than it was in medieval times. In the U.S., dentistry is actually one of the 10 most trusted and ethical professionals. But this study shows that a lot can be said about dental health, even thousands of years later. So make sure you’re taking care of your teeth!