Ancient Brits Had Less Gum Disease Than Modern Ones

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Photo: New Line Cinema

Sometimes new studies provide fodder for cheap jokes. This is one of those times: According to researchers at King’s College London, “The Roman-British population from c. 200-400 AD appears to have had far less gum disease than we have today.” The researchers figured this out by examining a bunch of skulls from that period and comparing the rates of various dental ailments to what’s going on in Britain today.

The press release explains:

Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, is the result of a chronic inflammatory response to the build-up of dental plaque. Whilst much of the population lives with mild gum disease, factors such as tobacco smoking or medical conditions like diabetes can trigger more severe chronic periodontitis, which can lead to the loss of teeth. 

The study, published in the British Dental Journal, examined 303 skulls from a Romano-British burial ground in Poundbury, Dorset for evidence of dental disease.  Only 5% of the skulls showed signs of moderate to severe gum disease, compared to today’s population of which around 15-30% of adults have chronic progressive periodontitis.

To be fair, though, “many of the Roman skulls … showed signs of infections and abscesses, and half had caries (tooth decay). The Poundbury population 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.” Plus, they were lucky to live to their 40s.

I’ll take modern life, please, heightened gum disease risk or no.