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Human skull with well-preserved teeth

New study shows ancient Britons had less gum disease than the modern day

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A new study published in the British Dental Journal has revealed that ancient Britons had significantly less gum disease compared to that seen in the modern day, despite the advent of the toothbrush and advances in dentistry. The results suggest that the modern day lifestyle is detrimental to oral health.

According to a news release by King’s College London, the study involved an analysis of 303 skulls held at the Natural History Museum, which had come from a Romano-British burial ground in Poundbury, south-west England. The skulls were dated to between 200 and 400 AD, and would have belonged mostly to countryside dwellers as well as a Romanised urban population.

The results showed that only 5% of the ancient skulls displayed moderate to severe gum disease, while 15 to 30% of adults today suffer from the condition.

The skulls came from a Romano-British burial ground in Poundbury

The skulls came from a Romano-British burial ground in Poundbury, England. Credit: David Connolly.

"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," said study lead author Professor Francis Hughes from King's College London (KCL) Dental Institute.

Theya Molleson from the Natural History Museum, the study's co-author, added that the results show that a “major deterioration” took place in the oral health of individuals from Roman times to the modern day.

Gum disease

Gum disease affects up to 30% of adults today but was only found in 5% of ancient skulls. (Wikipedia)

The study authors have put the blame on factors such as smoking and diabetes, which can trigger gum disease, eventually leading to tooth loss.

Nevertheless, despite the better gum health, the ancient skulls did demonstrate more signs of infections, abscesses, and tooth decay, which probably reflects improvements in dental care and dentistry over the centuries.  

Featured image: Human skull with well-preserved teeth. Credit: Niklas Morberg / flickr

By April Holloway



angieblackmon's picture

I'm surprised and not surprised at the same time....if that is possible. They probably had a much better diet than we have now...and didn't have sugar lurking around every corner!

love, light and blessings


Like the man said, gum disease causes an enzyme to deteriorate bone. The number one cause of gum disease is the replacement of whole grains with bleached white flour. Period. Your saliva turns that stuff into sugar while still in your mouth and is bad, bad news.

riparianfrstlvr's picture

another possible factor in less gum disease is that they ate real food without all of the sugar and corn syrup, i'll bet there was less obesity back then too.


Actually the linked article said "the peak age at death appears to have been in their 40s." so presumably they compared to modern Britons in their 40's.

There is no mention of the age of the people at death. I hope they compared apples to apples given the difference in longevity from then to now. A longer life could mean more chance of gum diseases?


aprilholloway's picture


April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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