Oldest mummy had toothache

For the first time researchers have presented evidence of gum disease, tooth decay and dental trauma in the worlds oldest 'wet mummy', 'Ötzi' the Iceman.1

While extensive analysis of Ötzi has been performed over the past two decades, his dentition has never been closely investigated until now.

Researchers from the Centre for Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich re-evaluated computed tomography (CT) scans from 2005 and discovered various oral pathologies in the form of carious lesions, severe dental abrasions and advanced periodontitis. The high presence of caries can be attributed to the dietary shift in the Neolithic period, with a focus on agriculture and a carbohydrate-rich diet rather than foraging. One carious lesion can even be seen to penetrate the dental pulp, most likely leading to pulp necrosis. Aggressive periodontitis can be observed, with the cervical regions of the front teeth exposed and a general horizontal loss of the alveolar bone leading to open furcations of at least two molars. A fracture of the palatal cusp of the left first upper molar was possibly the result of mechanical trauma, and probably meant the tooth was functional but loose. Coupled with a recurrent periodontal abscess it can be speculated that had Ötzi lived longer, he would have been at great risk of tooth loss.

Seiler et al. conclude that 'the Neolithic Iceman probably had a functional, yet sometimes painful, dentition' and these latest findings offer an important look into not only the evolution of oral pathologies but the relationship between human lifestyle and dental disorders.

References

  1. 1

    Seiler R, Spielman A I, Zink A, Rühli F . Oral pathologies of the Neolithic Iceman, c.3,300 BC. Eur J Oral Sci 2013; 1–5.

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Pacey, L. Oldest mummy had toothache. Br Dent J 214, 544 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.bdj.2013.549

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