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Stone Age Man Could Have Done with a Dentist
April 16, 2013

ZURICH (Deutsche Presse-Agentur) -- Even prehistoric man suffered from bad teeth. Studies of Otzi, the 5,000-year-old ice-bound body discovered in the Alps in 1991, have just found caries and periodontitis (gum disease).

On top of that he had damage to one of his front teeth, presumably due to an accident, researchers at the Centre for Evolutionary Medicine (ZEM) at the University of Zurich found.

ZEM engages in interdisciplinary research into the evolution of significant human diseases.

The Otzi body displays "astonishingly numerous" dental problems still widespread today, according to Professor Frank Ruehli, who led the study.

Although the ice body has been studied extensively over the last 20 years, the teeth had received relatively little attention until the latest investigation. The findings give interesting information on the dietary habits of Neolithic people and the evolution of dental diseases.

ZEM dentist Roger Seiler and colleagues in the US and Italy examined CT scan data of Otzi's teeth.

"The loss of the periodontium has always been a very common disease, as the discovery of Stone Age skulls and the examination of Egyptian mummies has shown. Otzi allows us an especially good insight into such an early stage of this disease," Seiler said.

Three-dimensional reconstructions of the teeth and oral cavity show how Otzi was suffering from advanced periodontal disease. In the area of the rear molars especially, the researchers found a significant loss of periodontal supporting tissue.

While it is unlikely that Otzi would ever have cleaned his teeth, his abrasive diet would have led to a kind of self-cleaning, the experts believe.

Periodontitis is also associated with diseases of the cardiovascular system and previous studies showed that Otzi suffered from arteriosclerosis.

The dental cavities suggest Otzi had a diet of starchy foods such as bread and cereal, which were increasingly consumed in the Neolithic period as agriculture began to emerge.

His teeth also indicate the harshness of life in those times. One front tooth suffered damage and a molar lost a cusp, probably from chewing something hard.

Otzi is the oldest wet mummy in the world. Discovered in the Oetztal Alps on the border between Austria and Italy in 1991, it is believed he died from an arrow wound in the back in approximately 3300 BC.

The research was published in the European Journal of Oral Sciences. Other scientists involved in the study included Andrew Spielmann of the New York University College of Dentistry and Albert Zink of EURAC in Bozen.

Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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