A while back we looked at a study claiming that people had healthier gums in Roman times. We disputed that finding then, and now there’s even more good evidence that in Roman times people had gum disease at least as bad as we do today.

“Written in Bone” Findings

Fotolia_90641844_Subscription_Monthly_MCurrently, the London Museum is running an exhibit called “Written in Bone,” which focuses on the findings that genetics and other new scientific approaches are able to tell us about people of the past. It focuses on the stories of four people from London, or Londinium as it was known at the time.

Researchers used an ancient DNA analysis, which used an extracted tooth from each skeleton to determine the hair and eye color of each individual, their chromosomal sex, and what diseases they were suffering from, including the fact that all of them suffered from gum disease.

They used mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down only from the mother and so is relatively unchanged and becomes a population marker, to determine each person’s ancestry. They used mobility isotopes, which are incorporated into teeth during childhood, to determine where each person grew up. Finally, they used dietary isotopes to figure out what each person ate. Ironically, this data is taken from the person’s rib.

You can see how this all comes together in the story of the teenager known as the Lant Street Teenager, who died at the age of 14. She was a blue-eyed girl who was born in North Africa to parents who came from the eastern edges of the Roman Empire. She moved to London at least four years before her death. She suffered from rickets as well as gum disease.

Rickets is a vitamin D deficiency that can soften your bones and teeth. Vitamin D is generated by our bodies in response to sun exposure. It’s very striking to think that someone born in North Africa and even living in London during Roman times would not get enough sun exposure during Roman times to generate enough vitamin D. This means that she likely had less sun exposure than modern Britons.

Gum Disease Was Prevalent

Although the level of gum disease or receding gums was not the major focus of this exhibit, it does show us that it was unlikely that gum disease was less prevalent than it is today. If the population had a gum disease rate of 30%, comparable to that of today, the odds of four randomly selected people having gum disease is about 0.8%. Although the sample size is small, it indicates that it’s probably more than 99% certain that gum disease levels in Roman Britain were at least as high as today.

Gum disease has long plagued us, and gum recession is common among older people. The expression of getting “long in the tooth,” didn’t come from nowhere, but was based on observations of receding gums with age.

If you don’t want your receding gums to give off your age, please call (310) 275-5325 in Beverly Hills or (949) 551-5902 in Orange County to learn about how we can restore your gums to a healthy, youthful position.