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Neolithic Caveman Found to Have Modern Oral Diseases

Update Date: Apr 09, 2013 03:37 PM EDT

Researchers discover evidence that Neolithic ice mummy Ötzi suffered periodontitis, tooth decay and accident related dental damage.

Ötzi's dates back to approximately 3300 BC and he surprisingly displays a large number of oral diseases and dentition problems that are still widespread today. 

The research was conducted by the Centre for Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich with the help of colleagues abroad. Head of the study, Professor Frank Rühli explains that Ötzi suffered from heavy dental abrasions, had several carious lesions and mechanical trauma to one of his front teeth, most likely due to an accident.  

 Ötzi was discovered in 1991 and has been studied ever since, however little attention has been paid to his oral health. Dentist Roger Seiler, a specialist in examining dental pathologies, from the Centre for Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich used the latest computer tomography data to study the Neolithic mummy.

"The loss of the periodontium has always been a very common disease, as the discovery of Stone Age skulls and the examination of Egyptian mummies has shown. Ötzi allows us an especially good insight into such an early stage of this disease," explains Seiler.

The computer tomography uses three-dimensional imaging to reconstruct Ötzi's oral cavity to examine his stage of periodontitis. Seiler found that the caveman was missing periodontal support tissue in the area of his rear molars, nearly extending to the tip of the root.

It is probable that while Ötzi did not clean his teeth, he had an abrasive diet which contributed to a self-cleaning process. Researchers also found vascular calcification which they attributed to his genetic make-up. Today, periodontitis has been linked to cardiovascular disease.

Researchers also attributed Ötzi's tooth decay to his consumption of more starchy foods, such as bread and cereal porridge, which became more common in the Neolithic age because of a rise in agriculture. These foods were abrasive due to contaminants and rub-off from quern, which is a tool Neolithic people used to grind cereals into flour, creating abrasion on Ötzi's teeth. Lastly, the discoloration of one of his front teeth suggests he suffered mechanical trauma and one of his molars has a lost cusp, most likely from chewing on a small stone in the cereal porridge.

This article was adapted from Science Daily

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