A team of researchers in Britain recently made a surprising discovery. Although people in ancient Roman times didn’t have the dental technology available to people in the modern world, they were considerably less likely to have gum disease. According to the BBC, researchers at the Natural History Museum and King’s College London discovered that just 5 percent of the ancient Roman population had gum disease.
Ancient Smiles Weren’t Perfect
The British study looked at more than 300 skulls, taken from a burial ground in Dorset. The skulls belonged to people who had died sometime in their 40s, sometime between the years 200 and 400 AD. Although the gum tissue on the skeletons had long since disappeared, the scientists were able to evaluate the skulls for evidence of gum disease by looking at the state of the bone. The more severe gum disease is, the more damaging it is to the jawbone. Any evidence of severe gum disease would be visible on the bone and on remaining teeth.
While evidence of gum disease was largely absent from the skulls, the researchers did find a host of other issues with these ancient people’s teeth. For example, half of the skulls showed evidence of tooth decay. There were also signs of dental abscesses and infection in many of the skulls.
The diet consumed by ancient people is also thought to have played a part in the status of their teeth. Many of the skulls featured prolonged wear and tear on the teeth. The scientists concluded that the extensive wear on the teeth was due to a diet that contained a lot of chewy and coarse cereal and grain products.
Modern Risk 1: Smoking
While ancient people had their share of dental issues, one of the co-author’s of the study, Theya Molleson, announced that it “shows a major deterioration in oral health between Roman times and modern England.” Ancient Romans might not have had toothbrushes, floss or regular dental checkups, and they might have eaten a diet that was rough on the teeth, but what they didn’t have were some of the major risk factors for gum disease.
One such risk factor is smoking. Ancient Europeans didn’t have access to tobacco, as it’s native to the Americas. Today, tobacco use and smoking are considered to be the leading causes of gum disease.
Tobacco harms the gums in several ways. It reduces the body’s immune response, so that it is less able to fight off infections. The nicotine in tobacco slows down the body’s ability to heal, as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control, smokers have twice the risk for developing gum disease and the risk increases with the number of cigarettes a person smokes and with the length of time he or she smokes. Continuing to smoke after being diagnosed with gum disease can also impact the effectiveness of treatment.
Modern Risk 2: Diabetes
Diabetes isn’t a new condition. There’s evidence of people having it dating back to ancient cultures, including the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Japanese. But, back then, people weren’t likely to live with diabetes for years and years the way that they are able to live today.
People who have diabetes have a greater difficulty fighting off infections than people without diabetes. The risk for gum disease increases when a person’s diabetes isn’t well-controlled.
Gum disease can also affect a person’s diabetes. It’s believed that periodontitis can increase a person’s blood sugar levels, which in turn increases a person’s risk for complications from diabetes.
Modern Risk 3: Diet
Although the diet people ate in Roman times wasn’t exactly tooth-friendly, it was nowhere near as sugary as the average diet today. A diet high in sugar creates an ideal environment for bacteria in the mouth. When a person eats a lot of sugar, he or she might also not be getting enough of the nutrients the body needs to fight off infection fully.
The results of the study suggest that gum disease can be prevented and that while good oral care habits can help, they aren’t the only solution. Avoiding smoking and other risk factors for periodontal disease can reduce risk considerably. It’s also a good idea to check in with a periodontist on a regular basis to evaluate the state of the gums and teeth.
Dr. John Paul Gallardo and Dr. William Lamas are periodontists in the Miami area. They can evaluate your teeth and gums and suggest the course of treatment that is most appropriate for you. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Gallardo and Dr. Lamas, call (305) 447-1447 today.