Teeth: they remember everything

Child brushing his teeth. Source: Seth Stroll, Flickr

A person’s teeth can say a lot about them. Scientists from McMaster University studied teeth from human remains in Quebec and France to verify if these teeth had the same mineral content and formation patterns as modern dentition, according to a paper published in the Journal of Archaeological Sciences.

The study led by anthropologist Megan Brickley uncovered that the teeth from the archaeological sites did have formation irregularities due to mineral deficiencies.  As a result of low vitamin D, teeth can create pockets beneath the enamel which are not normal in individuals receiving proper amounts of vitamin D through sun light and food, said the researchers.

“We were able to see inside that tooth, what was housed in there, years ago,” said Brickley in an article in The New York Times.

Being able to document level of minerals in the dentition of human remains at archaeological sites provides scientists and historians with a timeline on different diseases.  According to the journal article, one of the most common diseases affiliated with a low-level of vitamin D is rickets.

Bowed limbs are a classic sign of rickets. Above are the bowed leg bones and articulated human remains, SJ 970, in a grave in Saint Jacques, France. Source: The rachitic tooth: A historical examination via the Journal of Archaeological Science

Since teeth produce snapshots of a person’s life with each layer of dentition, they can be the only record of a person’s health throughout their life. In the case of rickets, scientists verified that adult teeth do not erase the evidence of the disease that a bowed bone can heal once it receives sufficient amounts of vitamin D.

The ability to document mineral levels in human remains will increase scientists’ understanding of diseases in both the past and present.


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