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Dental News and Research

Ancient Teeth and the Evolution of Oral Health

Ancient human teeth are shedding light on how humans’ dietary changes from the Stone Age until the present time have affected and continue to affect our health.

By tracking bacteria found in calcified plaque from teeth, researchers were able to examine dietary shifts from hunting and foraging, to farming, to the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of food manufacturing. Fossilized plaque is the only easily accessible source of preserved human bacteria available.

The study revealed that oral bacteria changed greatly with each major evolution in how food was obtained. Oral bacteria in modern man appear to be considerably less diverse than those in prehistoric man, which has allowed cavity-causing bacterial strains to dominate the modern mouth, resulting in what is essentially a constant state of disease. Therefore, it appears that ancient peoples had much healthier teeth than those living today.

Berry, Berry Good For You?

Most of us have heard by now how good berries can be for our health. Full of antioxidants, and generally low in sugar, they have many benefits. However, new research is showing that all of those great benefits may not make it past your mouth!

In a recent study, scientists exposed extracts from different berries to human saliva to see which of these health-promoting compounds survived intact to make it into the body.

Researchers discovered that two of the families of pigments which provide berries with their colors, called anthocyanins, are especially susceptible to degradation in the mouth’s environment. The results of the research also revealed that bacteria are actually responsible for the majority of the breakdown of these important compounds. This creates the question of whether it’s the berry pigments themselves, or the products of the compounds’ degradation that actually promote health.

“All fruits are unique because their chemical composition, or fingerprint, varies,” said Mark Failla, professor of human nutrition at Ohio State and interim chair of the Department of Human Sciences. “There are many different edible berries. Some might be better for providing health-promoting effects within the oral cavity, whereas others may be more beneficial for colonic health. We simply do not know at this time.”

Although it’s too early to name the best berry for health promotion based on this initial work, further research, which is currently being carried out, will hopefully reveal the answer.


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