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Cavemen had better teeth than we do, and we have carbs to thank for that

Despite never having seen a toothbrush, cavemen had healthier teeth than we do. (Thinkstock)Like your carbs? Who doesn’t like carbs? Carbs are delicious. All those soft, crusty breads, fluffy mashed potatoes and rich pastas are the staff of life (or at least the stuff with which you want to staff your life).

Except new research published in Nature Genetics last week suggests these starchy wonders are also the reason Stone Age cave people had healthier mouths than we do.

Yup. You read that correctly. People who were thousands of years away from the concept of a toothbrush had gums in better shape than ours.

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Scientists examined bacteria in the calcified dental plaque of 34 northern-European skeletons. The oldest specimen was around 7,500 years old, a time when prehistoric people were still heavily engaged in the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

“Hunter-gatherers in general had really good teeth. You see quite a bit of wear because of the highly abrasive nature of their diet, but you see almost no signs of pathology,” Alan Cooper, director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA and the study’s lead author tells the Globe and Mail.

It wasn’t until we started introducing processed carbohydrates and sugar-laden foods into our diet that things started to go downhill for our teeth. With the introduction of processed foods came the introduction of increased gum disease and dental decay.

"The composition of oral bacteria changed markedly with the introduction of farming, and again around 150 years ago. With the introduction of processed sugar and flour in the Industrial Revolution, we can see a dramatically decreased diversity in our oral bacteria, allowing domination by caries-causing strains. The modern mouth basically exists in a permanent disease state," he adds in the study’s press release.

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Cavities are one of the most recognizable byproducts of this shift. They stem, in part, from an increase in bacteria known as Streptococcus mutans -- a bacteria that took over our mouth with the modernization of our diets. This bacteria started killing off all the good bacteria that kept ancient mouths healthy.

“The modern mouth basically exists in a permanent disease state. There is a very low diversity of bacterial species and a high prevalence of disease-causing pathogens,” Cooper tells the paper.

If that hasn’t got you reaching for the mouthwash, this next bit of scientific deduction just might finish you off. Cooper believes that if this kind of bacterial genocide was going on in our mouths, it’s very likely that our sugar-rich diets have also led to a similar scenario in our guts.

“One can pretty safely deduce that same thing has happened in the gastrointestinal system, which is arguably even more important in terms of the role of bacteria in human health,” he adds.

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Indeed. Fallout factors like autism, diabetes, even heart disease, can be traced back to the loss of “good” bacteria in the gut.

And although we have far more advanced healthcare than our cave dwelling ancestors, our modern living practices have likely resulted in a host of diseases of which they never could have dreamed.

It’s unrealistic to imagine we can start reverting to hunter-gatherer status. While we can make healthier choices in our diet, a huge portion of our food has undergone some form of processing and unless we exclusively grow and hunt our own food there's not much we can do about it.

But we can certainly prevent things from getting worse. A good start would be to not engage in this practice of putting a sugar mist on your kids veggies. 

Watch the video below about how to treat sensitive teeth, which is on the rise.

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