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DNA in fossilized dental plaque traces human diet from Neolithic through modern times

DNA in fossilized dental plaque traces human diet from Neolithic through modern times

Early humans had cavity-free teeth at the time they were consuming a low-starch diet. Christina Adler and Alan Cooper at the University of Adelaide in South Australia set to sequence the DNA from ancient dental plaque from Neolithic, Medieval, and Industrial revolution European skeletons. The farming and industrial revolutions – 10,000 and 150 years ago, respectively – had dramatic impacts on human tooth health, they found. As starches, processed sugar, and flour increased in the diet, the diversity of the bacteria in the mouth went down. Dangerous and unfriendly bacteria took hold, causing chronic diseases of the teeth, gums, and other body systems.   

Did you know? Homo heidelbergensis Kabwe lived in Zambia 300,000 to 125,000 years ago and is one of the oldest humans known to have rampant tooth cavities.

2013