The Roman-British population from c. 200-400 AD appears to have had far less gum disease than we have today, according to a study of skulls at the Natural History Museum led by a King’s College London periodontist. The surprise findings provide further evidence that modern habits like smoking can be damaging to oral health.
Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, is the result of a chronic inflammatory response to the build-up of dental plaque. Whilst much of the population lives with mild gum disease, factors such as tobacco smoking or medical conditions like diabetes can trigger more severe chronic periodontitis, which can lead to the loss of teeth.
The study, published in the British Dental Journal, examined 303 skulls from a Romano-British burial ground in Poundbury, Dorset for evidence of dental disease. Only 5% of the skulls showed signs of moderate to severe gum disease, compared to today’s population of which around 15-30% of adults have chronic progressive periodontitis.
Professor Francis Hughes from the Dental Institute at King’s College London and lead author of the study said: “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. Gum disease has been found in our ancestors, including in mummified remains in Egypt, and was alluded to in writings by the Babylonians, Assyrians and Sumerians as well as the early Chinese.”
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