dental health dietWould you believe that humans had healthier teeth some 8000 years ago? A fascinating study recently published in Nature Genetics shows that our modern day diets are the primary cause of the “permanent state of disease” that is now plaguing our mouths.

The research

An international team of researchers studied 34 prehistoric human skeletons from Europe. By taking the DNA trapped within the tartar of ancient teeth, they were able to conclude that our ancestors had very healthy mouths – healthier than most of us today. The cause: significant increases in bacterial diversity.

It may sound strange, but the diversity of bacteria in our mouths thousands of years ago led to healthier teeth, whereas our teeth today have a much smaller bacterial diversity, due primarily to our change in diets. Professor Cooper, who led the study, was not surprised by the findings.  “As the diversity comes down, the proportion of the bacteria that is disease-causing goes up,” he said. “They seem to be exploiting that change.

The culprits

Some 8000 years ago, our ancestors did not eat grains, and stuck primarily to hunting and gathering. This lifestyle became extinct with the advent of farming. Today, the consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugars is the norm, and a very prominent part of our diets. It is also the reason why our mouths are much worse for wear than before.

“We have been raised in Western medicine to think that bacteria is bad,” he said. “But a diverse bacterial ecosystem is a healthy and resilient one. It’s hard to upset.”

Ridding our diets of refined carbs and sugars can help

The study once again reminds us that in order to have healthy teeth, we don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars at the dentist or on expensive dental products. Instead, by making small changes to our diet and removing refined carbs and sugars, we can promote the presence of healthy bacteria, which will help keep our teeth clean and strong.

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