Study: Britons have more gum disease today than in Roman times

By - Bad Breath Expert

SUMMARY:  Skulls from an ancient British population had fewer signs of gingivitis and periodontitis compared to modern-day Britons.

Posted: October 27, 2014

It may seem hard to believe, but people from Britain have more gingivitis and periodontitis today than they did 2,000 years ago, according to a new study.

Researchers from King's College London examined 303 skulls at the Natural History Museum that date from 200 to 400 A.D. and discovered only 5 percent showed signs of moderate to severe gum disease. In comparison, in modern-day Britain, 15 to 30 percent of adults have chronic gum disease. 

The skulls came from a Roman cemetery in Poundbury Camp, Dorset. The rate of gum disease hovered around 5 percent in the Poundbury population between the ages of 20 and 60, though the number of affected teeth and lost teeth rose steadily with age. 

"We were very struck by the finding that severe gum disease appeared to be much less common in the Roman British population than in modern humans, despite the fact that they did not use toothbrushes or visit dentists as we do today," lead author professor Francis Hughes from King's College London said in a press release from the Natural History Museum.

Gum disease, also called periodontal disease, is an infection of the gum tissue caused by a buildup of plaque. In the worst cases, it leads to the erosion of the bone that anchors teeth and, in turn, tooth loss. 

Hughes points out that gum disease has been found in our ancestors across the world, including Egyptian mummies. Moreover, the condition was alluded to in the writings by the Babylonians, Sumerians and Assyrians as well as the early Chinese.

Why the rotten gums?
The researchers attributed the decrepit oral health of modern-day Britons to smoking and diabetes. When someone smokes, dozens of deadly chemicals - already known for drastically increasing the risk of cancer in the rest of the body - pollutes and irritates the gum tissue. Not only does smoking cause smoker's breath, the gums may start to recede or pull away from the teeth, exposing roots and raising the risk of tooth decay. Exposed roots are also more sensitive to hot and cold temperatures, making eating and drinking uncomfortable. 

Smokeless tobacco doesn't get let off the hook either. Like cigars and cigarettes, smokeless tobacco products such as chewing tobacco and snuff contain at least 28 chemicals that have been shown to raise the likelihood of developing cancer of the mouth, throat and esophagus, according to the National Institutes of Health. In fact, one can of snuff delivers more nicotine than 60 cigarettes.

"By underlining the probable role of smoking, especially in determining the susceptibility to progressive periodontitis in modern populations, there is a real sign that the disease can be avoided," co-author and museum scientific associate Theya Molleso explained to the source. "As smoking declines in the population we should see a decline in the prevalence of the disease." 

Tooth decay
Despite the low rate of gum disease, many of the skulls indicated signs of infections and abscesses - including one-half that had tooth decay. When the people in the Poundbury population lived, a diet rich in coarse grains and cereals resulted in extensive tooth damage from a young age. 

Even though the sample group may not be entirely representative of all Britons living in Roman times, it nonetheless highlights an astounding trend, if not spurring a call to action among modern-day Britons. 

Fall of smoking empire, rate of gum disease
Hughes and his colleagues are hoping that the decrease in smoking will lead to better oral health around the globe. And the promise is very real. According to a 2013 national survey in England, fewer than one in five people were still smokers, with rates dropping below 20 percent for the first time in 80 years. In 1962, 70 percent of men and 40 percent of women in England smoked. 

That trend was similar across the pond, too. A 2013 report from the National Center for Health Statistics showed that smoking rates among U.S. adults dropped to a new low. Only 18 percent of American adults were cigarette smokers, marking a 2.6 percent decline since 2012. 

"The fact that we're below this theoretical sound barrier of 20 percent is important," says Stanton A. Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and director of the university's Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. "This data shows that the whole premise that there is this hard-core group, where no matter what you do you can't get them to quit, is just not true."

Health officials are encouraging everyone to look toward a smoking endgame as the upcoming generation grows older. Then maybe, thousands of years from now, when future scientists study our skulls and bones and teeth, they will find we conquered some of the bigger oral health problems thanks in part to the fall of the smoking empire. 

* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please Note: The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only.  Always consult your health care professional before beginning any new therapy.

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