April 10, 2013

Iceman Mummy Indicates Early Man Had Bad Oral Hygiene

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

A new study from the University of Zurich's Centre for Evolutionary Medicine reveals that the Neolithic Ötzi iceman mummy had an astounding number of oral diseases and dentition problems that are still widespread today.

Ötzi, also known as Ötzi the Iceman and the Man from Hauslabjoch, is a well-preserved mummy from approximately 3,300 BCE that was found in the Austrian-Italian Alps in 1991. According to researchers, Ötzi had numerous heavy dental abrasions and cavities, and appears to have suffered a mechanical trauma to a front tooth, which was probably the result of an accident.

The world's oldest "wet mummy," Ötzi has been studied extensively in the two decades since his discovery. His teeth, however, have not received much attention until now. Roger Seiler, a dentist from the Centre for Evolutionary Medicine has examined Ötzi's teeth using cutting-edge computer tomography data.

Seiler, who specializes in examining dental pathologies of earlier eras, stated that, "The loss of the periodontium has always been a very common disease, as the discovery of Stone Age skulls and the examination of Egyptian mummies has shown. Ötzi allows us an especially good insight into such an early stage of this disease."

The 3D reconstructions using computer tomography offer new insights into the Iceman's oral health, showing how severely he suffered from advanced periodontitis, an oral disease that causes chronic inflammation of the tissue surrounding the teeth. Seiler found loss of the periodontal supporting tissue that extended nearly to the tip of the root, particularly in the rear molar area.

While it is very unlikely that Ozti cleaned his teeth, his abrasive diet probably contributed significantly to a process of self-cleaning. In modern times, periodontitis is usually connected to cardiovascular diseases, and the researchers say that Ötzi also displays vascular calcification, which scientists believe is mainly caused by an individual´s genetic make-up.

The tooth decay can most likely be attributed to Ötzi eating more and more starchy foods such as breads and cereal porridge. These food items were more commonly consumed in the Neolithic period than earlier because of the rise of agriculture. The Iceman's abraded teeth surfaces demonstrated the abrasive nature of his food, probably due to contaminants and the rub-off from the quern. Ötzi also sustained mechanical damage to some teeth, which along with his other injuries testify to a tough life. One front tooth suffered damage with discoloration still clearly visible, and one molar lost a cusp, probably from chewing on something akin to a small rock in the porridge.

The results of this study were recently published in the European Journal of Oral Sciences.