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When we think of our teeth problems, we naturally assume that we have had these problems since our origins. However, the truth is that early man had much better oral health than modern man.

How can this be? They didn’t have toothbrushes, floss or mouthwash. What was their secret for good dental health?

Hunter gatherers of yesterday vs. farmers of today

It should come as no surprise that our dental health has everything to do with the food that we eat. This might seem like an obvious statement, but in our culture of fast-food, high sugar and instant gratification, this connection is often neglected.

Our ancestors, however, couldn’t help but make this connection. Ancient smiles that were also pretty mainly belonged to hunter gatherers who subsisted on a diet of hunted meat as a protein source and foraged foods like wild fruits, vegetables and nuts. The hunter gatherer diet has been around since about 85,000 years ago, which qualifies as standing the test of time.

According to scientists, these hunter gatherers had great teeth to go along with the lean and healthy diet. It’s when we reach about 12,000 years ago that the teeth of our ancestors began to degrade with the quality of their diet to the growth of agriculture. Early farmers had gum disease and cavities, which we still combat to this day, thanks to the drastic change from a hunter gatherer to an agriculturally based diet.

Bacteria started out fairly simple when humans were ingesting meat, nuts and vegetables. As time went on, our diet became loaded with carbohydrates and sugars which changed the composition of bacteria in our mouth. As the hunter gatherers started transitioning into farming, carb using bacteria started taking over friendly bacteria. The Industrial Revolution made matters worse with the invention of processed flour and sugar.

Back to the basics

In the early 20th century, Dr. Weston Price, founder of the research institute of the National Dental Association, did some research by traveling the globe looking at teeth in isolated tribes. He compared individuals from similar tribes but with different eating habits.

Price discovered that youths who had a traditional diet had better teeth than those who abandoned tradition for processed agriculture. More than 75% of Americans have some sort of gum disease and we are in a constant state of fighting of harmful bacteria.

What scientists are suggesting is that we have to make a goal of getting back to a healthy bacterial state. Heavy use of antibiotics has killed off friendly bacteria, and one popular strategy is to use probiotics to replenish them. Of course, teeth brushing and good oral hygiene is important as well, but having a mind for good bacteria is a plus.

Suggestions for improving dental health

Scientists suggest cutting out refined flours and sugars and going back to eating like our ancestors. Here are some points to follow:

  • Omega 3 fatty acids reduce gum disease. Prehistoric man ate foods rich in these acids, such as fish and game.
  • Vitamins C and D are great for healthy gums. Soil depletion has also depleted vitamins from modern food.
  • Lactoferrin is a protein found in our saliva which suppresses bacteria. Fermented dairy, such as yogurt, contain this protein.
  • Fermented foods, like kimchi, also contain healthy bacteria which our ancestors ate as well
  • Sugarless gum that contains xylotol can help curb cravings without causing cavities.

As we move forward and embrace change in so many areas of our lives, let’s not forget what we learn from the past.


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One Response

  1. Keri Kight

    I’ve read Dr. Price’s book, and learned a tremendous amount about our oral health. I always wondered how the ancient civilizations kept up on their oral care, but I guess they didn’t have to. A healthy diet is great all around. I want to keep my teeth healthy, and in my mouth, for as long as possible.


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