Modern people have far more gum disease than our predecessors, according to a British study of skulls published Friday. The surprise findings provide further evidence that modern habits such as smoking are 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.
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The study, published in the British Dental Journal, examined 303 skulls from a Romano-British burial ground in England, for evidence of dental disease, Xinhua reported. 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.
According to experts, the ancient people didn't smoke and were likely to have had very low levels of diabetes mellitus, two factors that are known to greatly increase the risk of gum disease among modern people. Among the people who survived into adulthood, the peak age at death appears to have been in their 40s. Infectious diseases are thought to have been a common cause of death at that time.
Francis Hughes from 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."
Experts concluded that this study showed a major deterioration in oral health between Roman times and modern England. By underlining the probable role of smoking, especially in determining the susceptibility to progressive periodontitis among modern people, there is a real sign that the disease can be avoided.
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