New Study Reveals Plaque's Historic Secrets

Posted on 8/25/2014 by Gregory A. Williams
"Normally, at the clinic of Gregory A. Williams DMD, we don't do a lot of celebrating plaque. If it's there, Dr. Williams or another team member cleans it up– end of story. However, we just came across a great study that involves plaque, ancient plaque.

Somewhere in Sudan

A team of international researchers has made new discoveries in our prehistoric ancestors' diet and their pre-agricultural understanding of plants… based on calcified dental plague!
The research is taking place at several different sites that comprise Al Khiday, an archeological complex on the White Nile in Central Sudan, including one burial ground that spans both pre- and post-agricultural societies.

To study their prehistoric nutrition, researchers sampled chemical compounds and microfossils they found in dental calculus (this is the calcified dental plaque) on the ancient people's teeth.

A surprising discovery

From this material, researchers deduced that the purple nutsedge,now regarded as a wildly prolific nuisance weed, comprised a major part of the prehistoric diet in this region. The plant not only provides a good source of carbohydrates but medicinal and aromatic properties as well. In fact, in the more recent past ancient Egyptians used the purple nutsedge as medicine and perfume.

Not only does it have pleasant olfactory properties, but researchers suggest that perhaps purple nutsedge's anti-bacterial properties played a role in the surprisingly low level of dental caries (cavities) they found in the agricultural populations studied.

A new take on old nutrition

This evidence discovered by this research team reveals that prehistoric peoples had an intricate and complex understanding of plant species that they utilized in their daily nutrition and health. This goes against the popular conception that pre-agricultural diets were primarily meat, berries, and nuts. And, of course, it gives us another reason to appreciate dental science in every capacity, archeological and otherwise.

Back to the present

We at Gregory A. Williams DMD are still not big fans of plaque. But, we do love learning about how prehistoric people– pre-toothbrushes and pre-floss– may have approached dental hygiene through their food. If they really did do this, then they have something in common with dental-conscious people today. As patients of Dr. Williams know, proper nutrition is one of the key ingredients to oral health!

If you are interested in reading more about this study, you can find it here, as well as National Geographic's take on the findings here. We look forward to seeing you at your next appointment with Dr. Williams!

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