What If the Real Cause of Cavities and Gum Disease is Incorrect?

Dental Hygiene

My husband and I recently had dinner with friends of ours and the after-dinner discussion touched on the “apparent” fact that our ancestors had more oral disease and probably lost many of their teeth at an early age.  Obviously, they did not have the benefit of modern oral health practices such as brushing, flossing, fluoridated toothpaste and fluoridated water.

However, I had read recently that current research suggests that this may not necessarily be true.  I decided to do some research of my own to see if I could find the real cause of cavities and gum disease.

In a very recent study published online in Nature Genetics in February 2013, Alan Cooper, the director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA and one of the authors of the paper says:

“Hunter-gatherers had really good teeth, [but] as soon as you get to farming populations, you see this massive change.  Huge amounts of gum disease and cavities start cropping up.”

Cooper and his research team looked at the calcified plaque, also known as tartar or calculus, found on ancient teeth from 34 prehistoric skeletons.  Finding that as our diets changed over time — shifting from meat, vegetables and nuts to carbohydrates and sugar – so did the composition of the bacteria in our mouths.

Apparently, the composition of oral microbiota remained “unexpectedly constant” between the Neolithic and medieval times and then experienced a huge change during the Industrial Revolution – dominated now by (the now ubiquitous) cariogenic bacteria and a much less diverse microbiotic ecosystem.

In laymen’s terms:  Switching from a paleo diet to a high-carbohydrate and processed diet appears to have contributed to an increase in oral disease.

As the importance of commensal microbes for human health is increasingly recognized, the evolutionary impacts of changes in human diet and culture on these microbes remains relatively unknown.  This, I believe, is poised to change with the knowledge being obtained from the Human Microbiome Project and the acceptance of the fact that we appear to be more microbe than human!

We now know that the bacteria in our bodies outnumber our human cells 10:1 and that their DNA outnumbers our own human DNA 150:1.  We have ignored our symbiotic relationship with our microbes to our own peril!

According to Cooper:

“We brush our teeth and we floss, and we think that we’ve got good oral hygiene.  But [we’re] completely failing to deal with the underlying problem.  Ten years from now, I think we’re going to find that the whole microbiome is a key part of what you get monitored for and treated for.”

I could not agree more!  Dealing with only the oral manifestation of disease is not getting to the root cause of the problem.

Stay tuned next month when I will reveal some of the strategies that I have developed here at Woodland Dental Hygiene to help my patients deal with improving their own Oral Microbiome.

I welcome your feedback. You can connect with me via email or telephone, leave a comment right here on the site or join in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Until next time,


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