Neanderthal Teeth Show How Much Teeth Are Impacted by Environment

Holistic dentistry teaches us that oral health depends on more than just brushing, flossing, and making regular dental checkups. Instead, it can be influenced by our many life choices, as well as many aspects of our environment.

Nothing demonstrates this as clearly as the stories told by a pair of Neanderthal teeth, which show that many of our life experiences can be preserved in our teeth.

Teeth Tell Stories

A Hard Life

One of the most critical pieces of evidence found in the teeth of these neanderthal children is that they were subjected to critical shortages of food and nutrients when they were children.

They can tell this because teeth get laid down in an annual pattern, similar to tree rings. Of course, the developmental pattern only shows in teeth during the years of development, which start before birth and continue until the teeth emerge, around age 10.

In the case of these Neanderthal children, one of them was severely malnutritioned for about a week, during which time the body was likely removing minerals from the skeleton and the child was losing weight. The other child had a longer period of mineral removal and weight loss, about two weeks long, followed by a week-long period of malnutrition in the following fall.

Early Lead Exposure

But malnutrition isn’t the only hazard recorded in these Neanderthal teeth. The teeth also record repeated lead exposure for these people.

We tend to associate lead exposure with modern technological developments like plumbing, paint, and cheap costume jewelry, but the truth is that lead has long been an environmental hazard.

For these Neanderthals, lead was just found in their environment. In modern times, there are two lead mines in the area where these Neanderthals lived and foraged. As a result, they experienced high lead exposure for weeks or even months, especially during the winter.

Although lead can be passed through mothers’ milk, and it could have come from breathing air from wildfires, it most likely came from contaminated food and water sources.

This is a lesson to people who seek out raw water sources: just because it didn’t go through plumbing, it doesn’t mean the source will be free of dangerous contaminants like lead, arsenic, or even fluoride. It’s a good idea to get any raw water source tested.

What Will Our Children’s Teeth Say about Us?

This study reminds us that our teeth are capable of absorbing and recording many aspects of our lives. They won’t just show the number of cavities we had, the restorative dentistry we got, or our gum health. Instead, they will record environmental pollutants like lead from the repeated, harsh wildfire seasons we’re experiencing in California, and will show whether we were exposed to too much fluoride from multiple sources as children.

Taking care of our teeth means more than just brushing, flossing, and making your regular checkups. It depends on ensuring an overall healthy lifestyle and a healthy environment. To learn more about strategies for ensuring you have good oral and overall health, please call (408) 354-5600 today for an appointment with holistic dentist Dr. Nancy Nehawandian at Top Down Dental.