A study of skulls at the Natural History Museum by King’s College London has shown that the Roman British population from 200 to 400 AD appears to have had less gum disease than we have today. Gum disease is also known as periodontitis and has been covered before numerous times on this blog.
The researchers examined 303 skulls from a Roman-British burial ground in Dorset for evidence of dental disease. Around 5% of the skulls showed signs of moderate to severe gum disease compared to today’s population which shows around 15 to 30% of adults have gum disease. Many of the Roman-British skulls showed signs of infections and abscesses and around half had caries (cavities). In addition the skulls showed extensive tooth wear from a young age likely due to their diet.
The researchers say that Roman-British population did not smoke and likely had low levels of diabetes which are two factors known to increase gum disease. The peak age of death of this population was around 40 and infections diseases were likely a common contributor.
The researchers found the results surprising as modern humans use toothbrushes and see dentists where as the Roman British populations did not. More studies should be conducted to determine some of the reasons as to why today there is more of a prevalence of gum disease. Gum disease has been around for a while as it has been found in mummified remains in Egypt and was written by many old civilizations such as the Babylonians.
Source: T. Raitapuro-Murray, T. I. Molleson, and F. J. Hughes. The prevalence of periodontal disease in a Romano-British population c. 200-400 AD. BDJ, vol. 217, issue 8, page 4, 2014.