|22 April 2013
Oetzi needed a dentist
Oetzi is probably the most-studied Neolithic man in history. More than 5000 years ago, he was hit by an arrow and bled to death on a glacier in the Alps between modern-day Austria and Italy. The glacier preserved his body until it was discovered by hikers in 1991.
Extensive studies revealed that Oetzi was a middle-age, well-to-do agriculturalist who lived not far from where he died. He also suffered from heart disease and joint pain, and probably had Lyme disease.
Since his discovery, scientists have reconstructed Oetzi's face, analysed his clothing, scrutinised his body and sequenced his genome, but somehow never analysed his teeth. Using a CT scanner, Frank Ruhli and his colleagues found that the ancient farmer had several cavities, likely caused by his carbohydrate-rich diet. "It's surprising how bad condition he is in," said Ruhli, a palaeo-pathologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.
Oetzi also showed severe wear of his tooth enamel and severe gum disease. Hard minerals in milled grains abraded the surface of his teeth and gums, exposing the bone below and making the roots loose. Similar wear-and-tear is found in the teeth of Egyptian mummies who ate milled grains, Ruhli says. "In another five to 10 years, he certainly would have lost some of his teeth," he added.
As a result of his poor dental health, Oetzi would have felt pain when eating hot or tough foods, Ruhli said. Oetzi also showed evidence of trauma to his front right incisor from being struck, either in a fight or an accident.
Oetzi's dental problems show the results of switching from a strict hunter-gatherer diet to an agricultural one, Ruhli says. "Hunter-gatherers were depending on meat and berries, whereas [Oetzi] had processed food. The processing added a bigger variety of food but also impacted the quality of the teeth."
Edited from LiveScience (11 April 2013)
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