In pop culture, we are lead to believe that prehistoric humans were less intelligent, dirty and unequipped to take care of their health. However, according to archeologists, this couldn't be further from the truth, especially when it comes to removing dental plaque and preventing other oral health problems.
Prehistoric oral health care
Recent research conducted by an international team of archeologists that was published in the journal PLOS One shows that prehistoric individuals understood how important plants were to their overall health even before agriculture systems had been developed. The site that the researchers chose was located in Al Khiday, Sudan, a region on the White Nile in central Sudan that is known for being one of the world's oldest prehistoric areas for human life, dating back at least 7,000 years.
The scientists led their examination by extracting chemical compounds from calcified dental plaque in age-old skeletons - which might lead to you to believe that the researchers encountered a bout of prehistoric bad breath. However, what they discovered was that these individuals ate purple nut sedge. This weed was used for medicinal and aromatic purposes and was also an excellent source of carbohydrates, according to the University of York. This evidence demonstrates that the widely held belief that prehistoric people relied on meats and protein as their main sources of food might have been turned on its head. The consumption of purple nut sedge shows that even the earliest humans had a keen understanding of how plants benefited their well-being, including their teeth.
"We also discovered that these people ate several other plants and we found traces of smoke, evidence for cooking, and for chewing plant fibers to prepare raw materials," lead author Karen Hardy, a Catalan Institute for Research and Advanced Studies research professor at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and an honorary research associate at the University of York, explained. "These small biographical details add to the growing evidence that prehistoric people had a detailed understanding of plants long before the development of agriculture."
Eat like a caveman
Many other scientists agree with Hardy, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Even though our modern capabilities and multimillion dollar dental industry have allowed us to enjoy straighter and whiter teeth compared to our prehistoric counterparts, data shows that they probably had healthier teeth than we do, and it all has to do with our modern diet.
As humans transitioned from hunting and gathering to farming, the bacterial structure of the mouth changed as well. As a result, certain types of "friendly" microbes in the mouth were overpowered by disease-causing bacteria. Fast-forward to the addition of processed foods from flours and sugars starting during the Industrial Revolution and you have a recipe for dental disaster tied directly to the growth of anaerobic bacteria.
What's the takeaway from this research? Cutting out processed carbs isn't just good for your waistline - it can help you develop stronger and healthier teeth. In addition, adding fresh vegetables and fruits to your diet can provide essential nutrients and contribute even more to your smile.