New Foods From The Ancients Gave Us New Words And An Overbite

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New Foods From The Ancients Gave Us New Words And An Overbite

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  2. Dental Articles
  3. Orthodontics Articles
  4. New Foods From The Ancients Gave Us New Words And An Overbite
New Foods From The Ancients Gave Us New Words And An Overbite In Bacchus Marsh At Bacchus Marsh Dental House
About two-and-a-half million years into the past of past humans, way before the Neolithic period was on everyone’s calendar, and thousands of years before anyone could even dream of the Industrial Revolution, food was minimally processed.

What a surprise, eh?

Essentially, food processing was this: find, gather, eat. Aside from the ambulatory effort of sourcing, the next greatest energy expenditure was chewing.

All primates start with an overbite and overjet (scissors) bite, with both baby and permanent teeth.

Because the traditional ancient diet of tough and fibrous foods wore down teeth and strengthened the jaw, the scissors bite naturally develops into an edge-to-edge bite by adolescence – where top and bottom front teeth align – were you lucky enough to make it that far.

During this part of our evolution, mandibles were longer and wider, giving plenty of room for all 32 teeth. No archeological finds have evidenced tooth crowding until around 12,000 years ago in Southwest Asia when the Neolithic age was everyone’s calendar and farming had been around for almost 1,000 years. Malocclusions (overbites) were also first identified in the discovered human remains of this era.

Most certainly, there is profound contradiction in the teeth we have today.

Although they are the hardest part of our body, they’re incredibly fragile. With thanks to forensic anthropology, we know they can last for millions of years – yet we can’t seem to have ours last just one 21st century lifetime.

Good, strong teeth ensured our dominance over our ancestral organic world, and today we require specialised, and regular routine care to maintain even average oral health. It’s a contradiction largely limited to contemporary populations of post-industrial society. There is a notable mismatch between our commonly ultra-processed foods diet, and the ancient one that maintained the health of our teeth and jaws. Palaeontologists have long understood the deep evolutionary history rooted in our teeth.

By the late Neolithic period and being no longer nomadic, there was expertise in livestock husbandry for meat and milk, which appear to be the most important elements of their diet and economy. Although not large scale, cereals were also cultivated and processed into breads (not Weet-Bix and Froot Loops). Wild foods like mushrooms and berries were still being gathered, along with continuing to hunt feral animals.

There have been rare finds of preserved foods during this part of our history; which is not to say it wasn’t customary – maybe they just ate it all.

The greatest evidence of the domestication of pigs, cattle and sheep is from excavations at Durrington Walls, an ancient settlement two miles from Stonehenge, the world’s most famous prehistoric monument in Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, England.

It was here that more than 38,000 discarded animal bones were recovered; representing at least a thousand animals.

The bones were analysed, revealing incredible information about where food came from, how it was prepared, and it confirmed animal domestication.

Of the Durrington Walls excavated bones and teeth, 90% were porcine with the rest mostly bovine.

Meat was still attached to many of them which suggests that food was plentiful. Flint tool cut marks found on some cattle bones clearly show deftness in butchery, and burnt pig trotter bones signify open fire spit-roasting.

Seeped food molecules from porous ceramic cooking pots allowed chemical analysis of the pottery fragments. The majority of extracted trace residues contained pork and beef fats, indicative that stews were popular on the Durrington Walls menu, and undoubtedly everywhere else.

The remainder proved to be dairy products: milk, cheese, yoghurt and butter.

New Foods From The Ancients Gave Us New Words And An Overbite At Bacchus Marsh Dental House In Bacchus Marsh
What’s most interesting about this particular find is the revelation that Neolithic societies had a basic understanding of lactose intolerance.

Mammalian milk, on which offspring are nurtured and essential for strong teeth and bones, is rich in lactose.

In humans, the gene (LCT) gives instruction for the small intestine to produce the lactase enzyme to enable the digestion of lactose. Another gene, and a specific DNA sequence controls whether the LCT gene is on, or switched off.

With the LCT gene ‘on’, the the lactose molecule is split into the simple sugars glucose and galactose, which is easily absorbed by babies, and fuels their growth.

Since milk contains the most lactose, after babies are weaned there’s a gradual decrease in their lactase secretion, having already gained the developmental benefits of mother’s milk which includes assisting in the eruption of their already-formed milk teeth.

However, during this time in human evolution, some developed a gene mutation that kept the LCT turned on; meaning their physiology could tolerate the lactose in milk.

Lactose intolerance comes from not having this mutation. Therefore no lactase enzyme is produced, which is why there are adverse effects with dairy consumption.

So if you’re frequently ribbed by friends because there can be no mozzarella on your pizza, let them know that those of the triple-cheese are borne of mutant ancestors.

The short answer to understanding the lactose knowledge of these ancients is that processing milk into butter, cheese and yoghurt significantly reduces this inherently indigestible milk sugar.

This development of agriculture and all its subsequent milling and fermentation meant a move toward a much softer diet of much less mastication: shorter in duration and requiring less jaw muscle strength.

Subsequently, the scissors bite remained well into adulthood.

And with that, came further change.

Language is often considered a fixed skill that emerged with the origin of our species. In terms of type and distribution of linguistic structure, the traditional view is one of uniformitarian assumption in which anthropologists and linguists attest to speech sounds of the past being essentially the same as they are today.

It’s logical though, to take a perspective that includes biology and culture.

Research shows that the five labiodental sounds – predominantly ‘f’ and ‘v’ and similar – arrived only after agriculture. As did ‘ɱ’ which is similar to ‘m’ pronunciation excepting that the lower lip touches the upper teeth. (As in the word ‘comfort’.)

So when food became easier, language became more complex.

This change (or rather stasis) of the human bite however, only increases the probability of accidentally producing those labiodental sounds: it doesn’t dictate it happening. Which is why there are regions, cultures and societies that don’t have this subset of consonants.

There are roughly 7,000 spoken languages in the world, with more than 2,000 distinct sounds to differentiate one word from another. The basic anatomical requirements for speech were in place long before Homo sapiens evolved, but it seems that some sounds are older than others purely because of the sophistication of teeth, mouth and jaw motor control.

The heads up is that teeth are the hardest substance of the human body, and language the hardest problem in science.

Now there’s something to chew on.

Note: All content and media on the Bacchus Marsh Dental House website and social media channels are created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice.

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