Our teeth have a history to them, a story they can tell. When a dentist looks into our mouth, the natural ridges of our teeth, worn in some places, show which side of our mouth we favor when chewing, and can even say something about our diet and natural habits. According to biological anthropologist, Tanya Smith, the same can be true for teeth from hundreds of thousands of years ago. A new study published in the journal of Science Advances, does just that, exposing intimate details of the early life of two Neanderthals who lived 250,000 years ago in southern France. The size, shape, and chemistry of their teeth shows us some of the struggles they had to face in their early environment.
How Are Teeth Studied?
Much like trees, teeth grow in a layered pattern, one after the other. Unlike the annual layers of tree rings, however, teeth grow in much finer layers that can sometimes allow scientist to study each day of a child’s early growth. In this latest study, Tanya Smith and her team examined teeth from two Neanderthal children by cutting thin slices from each tooth, and using high-powered magnification to access information hidden in the layers. The findings were then compared with modern humans from the same site, who lived tens of thousands of years after the Neanderthals.
What Did We Learn?
Mapping changes in the element barium gave scientist insights into Neanderthal nursing habits, as mother’s milk contains a high amount of the element due to its similarity to calcium. What the researchers found was that the child was nursed throughout the first two and a half years of its life. Because this is similar to the average weaning age of non-industrial human populations, it suggests that Neanderthals are more like modern humans then we once thought. Some anthropologists have suggested that the development of dairy products from other animals gave mothers to opportunity to wean their children earlier, but this theory hasn’t been tested. Scientists also found that the children studied faced fever, vitamin deficient, and disease in winter months.
What Will Scientists Say about Your Teeth?
In hundreds of thousands of years, what do you think scientist will say about your teeth? Did you eat a diet high in starch and sugar? Did you protect your teeth using the standard oral hygiene habits of the time? Your teeth are incredibly important to your overall health, so you should take steps to protect them. Complications like cavities or gum disease carry repercussions that can go far beyond simple pain. Gum disease can significantly increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and even diabetes, which is why protecting your mouth protects your body.
If you haven’t been to a dentist in some time, the time to schedule an appointment is now. Beyond your oral hygiene habits, one of the most important things you can do for your mouth is visiting a dentist every six months for a checkup and cleaning.