Scientists can extract tons of information from the prehistoric bones of our distant relatives. Similarly, the evolution of modern disease is recorded in the teeth of our ancestors. The DNA of bacteria from the mouth is preserved in the calcified dental plaque (tartar) of teeth and was analyzed by scientists at the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD). Their findings may surprise you.
In this study published in Nature Genetics in February 2013, the researchers extracted the DNA of dental calculus from 34 prehistoric northern European human skeletons. They traced changes in the characteristics of oral bacteria from the last hunter-gatherers, through the first farmers to the Bronze Age and Medieval times.
According to study leader Professor Alan Cooper, ACAD Director,
This is the first record of how our evolution over the last 7500 years has impacted the bacteria we carry with us, and the important health consequences.
Oral Bacteria Change with Diet
This study documents the shift in oral bacteria as we moved from the Paleolithic period of hunter-gathers to the Neolithic period of agriculturists and beyond to the Industrial Revolution. It shows that there is a clear connection between the food eaten and impact that has on oral heath and health in general.
According to lead author Dr. Christina Adler,
Dental plaque represents the only easily accessible source of preserved human bacteria… genetic analysis of plaque can create a powerful new record of dietary impacts, health changes and oral pathogen genomic evolution, deep into the past.
The researchers found that the transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers shifted the oral microbiome to one associated with disease. They also found that during the Neolithic and the Medieval times the composition of bacteria remained constant.
However, with the onset of the Industrial revolution and all the processed foods that came with it, they found plenty of the ubiquitous bacteria that is associated with dental caries. The investigators noted that modern oral microbiomes are markedly less diverse than the populations of our ancestors. This is a finding that coincides with a marked decrease in the diversity of the microbiome in the gut that we find today.
Professor Cooper said,
The composition of oral bacteria changed markedly with the introduction of farming, and again around 150 years ago. With the introduction of processed sugar and flour in the Industrial Revolution, we can see a dramatically decreased diversity in our oral bacteria, allowing domination by caries-causing strains. The modern mouth basically exists in a permanent disease state.
This is exactly what Weston Price was concerned about in the 1930’s when he went on his world tour of isolated cultures. He found that as long as they were eating the diet of their ancestors without interference from the modern world, their health was radiant and their teeth were free of cavities and deformities (croaked teeth). Essentially, he found that the health of the mouth was a reflection of the health of the body.
Today, we know that the mouth is a reflection of what is happening in the gut. This is something real foodies have been saying for years. It is interesting that we can now back up the wisdom of traditional cultures with actual science.
Did you get to hear all the powerful lectures at the Orawellness Summit in January? If not you missed an amazing series of lectures from distinguished professionals in the holistic dental field.