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Dental Facts Friday: Ancient Romans had better oral health than the British nowadays

October 24, 2014

If you ever felt unsure about the state of your dental health, you should always contact a trusted dental practice like Farhoumand Dental. If you wonder how your dental health compares with others in time and space, read on this fascinating report by Australian Broadcasting and APF.

Ancient Romans had better oral health than the British nowadays

Ancient Romans had better oral health than the British nowadays

Ancient Romans had better oral health than the British nowadays

A new study has found that British citizens nowadays have worse oral health today than they did in Roman times despite the advent of toothbrushes and dentists.

A study of 303 skulls held at the Natural History Museum dating from the years 200 to 400 AD found only 5 per cent showed signs of moderate to severe gum disease (periodontitis), compared to about 15 to 30 per cent of adults today.

The eight-page study was published in the British Dental Journal on Friday.

While much of the population nowadays lives with mild gum disease, factors such as tobacco smoking or medical conditions like diabetes can trigger chronic periodontitis, which can lead to loss of teeth, the study said.

King’s College London (KCL) Dental Institute‘s Professor Francis Hughes, the study’s lead author, said the findings were surprising.

“We were very struck by the finding that severe gum disease appeared to be much less common in the Roman British population than in modern humans, despite the fact that they did not use toothbrushes or visit dentists as we do today,” he said.

“Gum disease has been found in our ancestors, including in mummified remains in Egypt, and was alluded to in writings by the Babylonians, Assyrians and Sumerians as well as the early Chinese.”

The skulls came from a Romano-British burial ground in Poundbury, south-west England.

Despite the low rate of gum disease, many of the skulls showed signs of infections and abscesses and half had tooth decay.

The skulls also showed extensive tooth wear from a young age, as would be expected from a diet rich in coarse grains and cereals at the time.

“This study shows a major deterioration in oral health between Roman times and modern England,” said Theya Molleson from the Natural History Museum, the study’s co-author.

“By underlining the probable role of smoking, especially in determining the susceptibility to progressive periodontitis in modern populations, there is a real sign that the disease can be avoided.

“As smoking declines in the population we should see a decline in the prevalence of the disease.”

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