Worried About Your Oral Health? It Began with Agriculture!

Worried About Your Oral Health It Began with Agriculture!

Worried About Your Oral Health? It Began with Agriculture!

Have you ever thought about how early humans got along without fluoride toothpaste or oral healthcare? It turns out that, while life for early humans was vastly harder than our own in almost every way, at the very beginning, human teeth were less prone to decay. Unfortunately, the more civilized life became for our ancestors, the worse such problems as tooth loss and inflamed gums must have been. Ironically, it may have been the wealthiest people in the ancient world who would have had the greatest need for our services at Beverly Hills Periodontics & Dental Implant Center.

The First Toothaches BW (Before Wonka)

As we graduated from hunter-gatherers to a race of farmers, the greater availability of food appears to have charged up our oral biome. Some experts believe that the arrival of streptococcus mutans, one of the primary bacteria that produces tooth decay, goes back to roughly the same time as agriculture may have begun, perhaps 12,000 years ago.

As civilization grew, it’s safe to say that our ancestors’ oral health issues increased. The kind of highly refined sugars and candies we know today were still a long way off but it's clear that tooth and gum problems were common. Hand-driven dental drills dating back to as long ago as 7000 BCE have been found in Pakistan and primitive dentistry was available in much of the ancient world. As agriculture made carbohydrates that turned into sugar as well as fruit and extremely sweet substances such as honey more available, more people suffered and sometimes died at least partly due to bad oral health.

The Hunt for Sweetness

Today, sweet flavors are never further away than our refrigerator or kitchen cabinets, but calories from sugars were precious as humanity was developing. Very sweet foods were present early on but, as with salt and other spices, highly prized commodities that most people would find hard to obtain in more than a small quantity.

For example, the uncultivated berries our hunter-gatherer ancestors survived on alongside nuts and the occasional animal, were likely very tart by comparison to what we’re used to now. If you’ve ever eaten a plain cranberry or had a taste of unsweetened cranberry juice, you may have an idea of how tart many fruits once were.1

Fortunately, but also unfortunately, the rise of agriculture made food of all types easier to obtain. What we now call organic farming was the only kind of farming and processed carbs as we know them didn't exist. Even so, the whole foods we pay extra for now also eventually break down into sugar on the teeth.

It got worse (and better). The rise of beekeeping meant honey could be safely harvested and other extremely sweet substances, such as sugar cane and agave, were being found all over the world. Moreover, early farmers were discovering botany and cultivating strains of fruits and vegetables that evolved into the very sweet and tasty fruits you can now purchase in any grocery store.2

BW (Before Wonka)

As humanity grew more sophisticated, tooth decay and gum disease became endemic. While cultures around the world were developing primitive oral hygiene and dentistry, the loss of teeth due to tooth decay followed by periodontal illness became widespread. Hippocrates, the legendary Greek father of medicine, wrote about gum disease circa 400 BCE. He correctly associated the problem with calculus (aka tarter), which he called pituita, but progress after that was slow.

Cut to roughly 2200 years later and it’s clear that dental issues were more frequent and severe among the wealthy. If you’ve read a biography of George Washington, you have an idea of just how painful and debilitating 18th-century periodontal problems could be and how little could be done. A plantation owner as well as a soldier, Washington could afford the finest dentists in the prosperous state of Virginia. Nevertheless, there was little relief from horrendous chronic oral pain and that was worsened by the extremely primitive oral prosthetics of the time.3

Unfortunately for President Washington, even the father of his country could not benefit from a science that hadn’t even begun. Periodontics was not a discipline until it was founded by two female dentists in 1914 – six years before women in the United States could vote!

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

Here in the 2020s, both the swords and the shields of oral disease are more advanced than ever. Candy, sweet baked goods, and sugar-laden sodas and juices are cheaper than ever and tempting us all; gum disease is present in about 46 percent of us. The cascading periodontal and oral health issues that plagued George Washington are still very much a problem. Fortunately, issues can now be largely prevented with good oral hygiene. When that fails, periodontal disease treatment offers numerous strategies for limiting or entirely preventing serious damage from periodontitis. Multiple or single dental implants offer a level of comfort, convenience, and attractiveness that would have made the usually solemn and perpetually taciturn George Washington break out in an extremely rare smile.

Dr. Peiman Soleymani and Beverly Hills Periodontics & Dental Implant Center are here to prevent or help reverse the most serious oral health situations. Dr. Soleymani is among the most respected periodontal and implantology experts in the United States, and people from throughout the Greater Los Angeles area turn to him when their smiles need protection and/or restoration. To get started, call the phone number on your screen or send us an email via our contact page.

1Apples grown by the legendary Johnny Appleseed were so unappetizing raw they were called “spitters.” They were primarily for making hard cider and apple brandy by revolutionary era farmer-entrepreneurs like George Washington.

2Zoos have largely stopped giving fresh fruit to animals in recent years because they have been developing tooth decay and diabetes due to the ever-increasing sugar content of modern fruit.

3Contrary to rumor, Washington’s prosthetic teeth were not wooden. They were primarily human replacement teeth. It’s not entirely known, but the facts on how and where a plantation owner’s dentist would have obtained these teeth are as disturbing as you can probably imagine.

Periodontal Care and the Gateway to the Digestive System

Periodontal Care and the Gateway to the Digestive System

It should be obvious but we don’t always realize that our teeth, gums, and saliva represent the very first step of the …

Periodontics and Stroke Prevention

Periodontics and Stroke Prevention

It’s increasingly well-established that periodontal problems may be closely related to issues like strokes, cancer, and …

Worried About Your Oral Health It Began with Agriculture!

Worried About Your Oral Health? It Began with Agriculture!

Have you ever thought about how early humans got along without fluoride toothpaste or oral healthcare? It turns out that, …