What We Learned From an Iceman's Terrible Teeth

Ötzi suffered from cavities, gum disease, and a cracked molar

By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 12, 2013 2:04 PM CDT | Updated Apr 12, 2013 2:16 PM CDT

(Newser) – Cavities are far from a modern woe, reveals a new study of a 5,300-year-old "ice mummy." "Ötzi" didn't just have the bad luck of dying on a glacier, he also suffered from terrible teeth, reports Science. Though his remains were discovered on the Austro-Italian border in 1991, his teeth had never been assessed. Researchers circled back to a CAT scan taken in 2005 to review his "oral cavity" and "study evolutionary aspects of oral disease," per their abstract in the European Journal of Oral Sciences.

What they determined, as translated from dental-speak ("the poor periodontal condition of the Iceman's dentition, eg, loss of alveolar bone...") by Science: a discolored front tooth as the result of some sort of accident, a broken molar, cavities, and gum disease. A diet involving gruel may have been responsible for the latter two conditions. In fact, the researchers believe that the rise of starches in the diets of the time may be linked to a corresponding increase in cavities.

A 5,300-year-old mummy, nicknamed Otzi, had terrible teeth when he died, indicating to researchers that man then was increasingly eating grains.
A 5,300-year-old mummy, nicknamed Otzi, had terrible teeth when he died, indicating to researchers that man then was increasingly eating grains.   (NationalGeographic)
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