Prehistoric Man Had Much Healthier Teeth and Gums than Modern Humans

George Washington's picture

Our modern stereotype is that – until recently – people were plagued with rotting teeth, cavities and gum disease.

But the truth is that prehistoric people had much better oral health than we do today.

As NPR reports:

Prehistoric humans didn’t have toothbrushes. They didn’t have floss or toothpaste, and they certainly didn’t have Listerine. Yet somehow, their mouths were a lot healthier than ours are today.


Hunter-gatherers had really good teeth,” says Alan Cooper, director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA. “[But] as soon as you get to farming populations, you see this massive change. Huge amounts of gum disease. And cavities start cropping up.”


And thousands of years later, we’re still waging, and often losing, our war against oral disease.


Our changing diets are largely to blame.


In a study published in the latest Nature Genetics, Cooper and his research team looked at calcified plaque on ancient teeth from 34 prehistoric human skeletons. What they found was that as our diets changed over time — shifting from meat, vegetables and nuts to carbohydrates and sugar — so too did the composition of bacteria in our mouths.




However, the researchers found that as prehistoric humans transitioned from hunting and gathering to farming, certain types of disease-causing bacteria that were particularly efficient at using carbohydrates started to win out over other types of “friendly” bacteria in human mouths. The addition of processed flour and sugar during the Industrial Revolution only made matters worse.


“What you’ve really created is an ecosystem which is very low in diversity and full of opportunistic pathogens that have jumped in to utilize the resources which are now free,” Cooper says.


And that’s a problem, because the dominance of harmful bacteria means that our mouths are basically in a constant state of disease.


“You’re walking around with a permanent immune response, which is not a good thing,” says Cooper. “It causes problems all over the place.”




According to Cooper, bacteria make up approximately 90 percent of the cells in our bodies. [Background; and graphics.] He believes that we focus too much on ourselves and not enough on this so-called microbiome.


We brush our teeth and we floss, and we think that we’ve got good oral hygiene. But [we're] completely failing to deal with the underlying problem,” he says. “Ten years from now, I think we’re going to find that the whole microbiome is a key part of what you get monitored for and treated for.

Likewise, Dr. Weston Price - founder of the research institute of the National Dental Association, which later became the research section of the American Dental Association, who served as its chair from 1914–1928 - traveled the world to compare the teeth of isolated people living on traditional diets with people of the same age and tribe who switched to modern diets, and found substantially better health among the traditional eaters, as documented by numerous photos.

For example, the traditional Seminole girl (left) has healthier teeth than the  Seminole girl (right) born to parents who had abandoned their traditional diets:


And the Samoan boy on the left was born to parents who ate native foods, while the Samoan boy on the right was born to parents who had abandoned their traditional diet:

(Photos Copyright © Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation®, All Rights Reserved,

While this seems counter-intuitive at first, it makes sense after a little reflection. After all, we evolved as hunters and gatherers. We haven’t had time to adapt – in an evolutionary times frame – to a life of farming … let alone processed foods.

Indeed, scientists say that we have much smaller brains than our ancestors had 20,000 years ago. And we have shrunk since the advent of farming.

No wonder – according to the New York Times:

More than 75% of American adults have some form of gum disease.

The science of healthy internal bugs is in its infancy. As Live Science notes:

“The concept of a probiotic to help reestablish our baseline microbiota after an antibiotic is a good concept,” [microbiologist Martin Blaser of the NYU School of Medicine] told LiveScience. “But the idea that, of all thousand species in our bodies, taking a single species that comes from cow or cheese is naïve.” Current probiotics are very well marketed, Blaser said, but there’s not much benefit. He does think medicine will one day develop probiotics that will be used to treat illness, but as of now, “it’s a very young field,” he said.

Ingesting too many antibiotics has also been linked to obesity, as it kills – often permanently – helpful intestinal bacteria (and see this and this), hypertension. Probiotics – which replace healthy intestinal bacteria – can promote weight loss, at least in people who don’t have a thriving community of natural intestinal flora.

Indeed, a healthy microbiome is also important for mental health:

Live Science reports:

Researchers have increasingly begun to suspect the gut was somehow linked with the brain. For instance, bowel disorders seem linked with stress-related psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression in people.


To learn more, scientists experimented with mice by feeding them a broth containing Lactobacillus rhamnosus JB-1.

This species naturally lives in our gut, and scientists are exploring whether strains of it can be used as “probiotics” to improve our health. They discovered these rodents displayed significantly less behavior linked with stress, anxiety and depression than mice fed plain broth. Bacteria-fed mice also had significantly lower levels of the stress hormone corticosterone in response to stressful situations such as mazes.


“By affecting gut bacteria, you can have very robust and quite broad-spectrum effects on brain chemistry and behavior,” researcher John Cryan, a neuroscientist at University College Cork in Ireland, told LiveScience.


“Without overstating things, this does open up the concept that we could develop therapies that can treat psychiatric disorders by targeting the gut,” Cryan added. “You could take a yogurt with a probiotic in it instead of an antidepressant.”




The investigators found that one GABA receptor component was present in higher levels in bacteria-fed mice in parts of the brain where it is normally lowered during depression. In addition, several GABA receptor components were reduced in parts of the brain where they are normally increased in stressed or anxious animals.


Next, the researchers severed the vagus nerve, which helps alert the central nervous system to changes in the gastrointestinal tract. They found the bacteria-induced effects on behavior and GABA receptors were diminished, suggesting this nerve is the pathway by which changes in the gut can influence the brain.


Vagal nerve stimulations have been used at times to treat depression resistant to other therapies, but “that’s a surgical technique,” Cryan said. “By targeting the gut with probiotics, we could indirectly target the vagus nerve without surgery.”

And see this.




Many native cultures ate a lot of fermented foods containing healthy bacteria. Think yogurt, miso and Inuit fermented seal blubber (gross, we know …)




Given that the modern diet contains less fermented foods, and that antibiotics have killed off some of our healthy intestinal flora, probiotics – sold in health food stores – are an important preventative measure against depression.

So it should come as no surprise that probiotics can help our oral health, as shown by scientific studies published in the American Journal of Dentistry, European Journal of Dentistry, the Journal of the Indian Periodontal Society and many other publications.

In a couple of years, we will be able to get the right probiotics to kill the bad bugs in our mouth without destroying the good guys like antibiotics do.

In the meantime, good oral hygiene – conscientious tooth brushing and flossing – is important. Indeed, an overwhelming number of scientific studies conclude that cavity levels are falling worldwide … even in countries which don’t fluoridate water.

World Health Organization Data (2004) -
Tooth Decay Trends (12 year olds) in Fluoridated vs. Unfluoridated Countries:

who dmft An Overwhelming Number of Scientific Studies Conclude That Cavity Levels are Falling Worldwide ... Even In Countries Which Dont Fluoridate Water

This is due to increased education about the importance of oral hygiene.

In addition, we should cut out refined flour and refined sugar. As Live Science notes:

Cooper suggests that one way to help return your microbiome to a healthier, more balanced state might be to cut out all of those processed carbs and start eating like our ancestors.

Omega 3 fatty acids reduce gum disease.    Indeed,  man evolved to eat omega 3 rich foods, and prehistoric folks ate fish and game that was bursting with omega 3s.

Many other fermented foods include beneficial bacteria (and remember that our ancestors probably ate a lot of fermented foods).  As one example,  kimchi contains a healthy bacteria that fights gum disease.

Melatonin also inhibits the bad bacteria.  Our body produces melatonin when it is dark.  If we don’t get enough sleep – or if there is too much light on in our bedroom – our body can’t produce enough melatonin.   When the sun went down, prehistoric man got a lot of exposure to the dark, and therefore produced a lot of melatonin.   (You can sleep with an eyeshade to cut out light.)

Lactoferrin – a protein naturally found in our saliva - suppresses bacteria found in periodontal disease.  Lactoferrin is found in fermented dairy products such as yogurt.

Cranberry juice contains a chemical that blocks cavity-causing bacteria from sticking to teeth. Drinking some unsweetened cranberry juice during the day can reduce cavities and gum disease.

Xylitol - a sweetener added to many types of chewing gum - helps prevent gum disease and re-mineralize teeth.  So if you chew gum, make sure it contains xylitol.

Finally, brushing with baking soda (or a toothpaste containing baking soda) is safe, and helps to reduce plaque … even in hard-to-reach areas.

More amazing health news:

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true brain's picture

Humans are also getting stupider because dumb people don't die. They get affirmation action and legacy and become presidents.

Evolution is being held off for the moment, but only for a blink of an eye.

AnAnonymous's picture

What you’ve really created is an ecosystem which is very low in diversity

Decreasing diversity and increasing uniformity is what 'americans' do. So what?

Another victory for 'americans' and mankind...

Ctrl_P's picture

Speaking of low diversity, us roundeyes must look all the same to you ethnically diverse Chicoms

gwar5's picture

I'm guessing prehistoric men were not Brits from Manchester.


"According to Cooper, bacteria make up approximately 90% of the cells in our bodies."  Not. (Misquote, I hope.)


Body is normally sterile except for alimentary canal, outer integument system, upper respiratory system, etc.  Perhaps the point here is that there are indeed bacteria living inside us, and upon us, in these places in a normal and healthy symbiotic fashion, which is true. But bacteria certainly don't make up 90% of anything in our cells or our bodies by mass or any other measure, not even the turd index where they reign supreme.

All the normal helpful bacteria have a very restricted corporeal passport and cause pathology and death when they ever venture where they are not supposed to be. Example, ruptured appendix where intestinal contents are spewed into the abdominal cavity where they don't belong.


Augustus's picture

It is the byproducts of the harmful bacteria and enzymes that are distributed throughout the body tissue.  They live as parasites in the gut as that is where the food supply is available.  The high grain and sugar content of the current diets encourage more harmful bacteria leading to inflamatory byproducts and development of chronic illness.

Ctrl_P's picture


"According to Cooper, bacteria make up approximately 90% of the cells in our bodies."

Not a misquote. bacterial cells are much smaller than human cells. We have also had papers published that show that there is 10 times more bacterial DNA in the human body that Human DNA. This information is at least 5 years old. and indeed health and disease modelling is seeking answers to whether micobiome imbalance is a tipping point for a variety of health problems.The imbalance of the gut bugs via antibiotics have been shown to affect neurons with excess production of prionic acid. We also add this to food as a preservative. This is a mechanism that delivers the increasing rates of autism in the population. You dont need a burst appendix for mislocated bacteia and bacterial toxins to cause havoc in the body. Think Leaky Gut Syndrome leading to the inflammation response and all the other associated conditions like arthritis and cancer.

Oh and those lazy arsed brits in manchester? they were the ones that couldn't stach a couple of rocks together.



Nehweh Gahnin's picture

Stellar post dude.  Thank you.

q99x2's picture

Popcorn and the Chilly Billy Cardilly Show were the culprits.

NotYetDead's picture

If you are interested in your brain as much as your teeth you may want to read "Gut and Psychology Syndrome" by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. I have no connection to the book at all. It is an interesting and reasonable explantion of the natural treatment, stricly through diet, of autism, depression, ADD, ADHD Dyslexia and a few others. If you like fois gras, this is the diet for you. No Joke....

rustymason's picture

We used to eat more dirt than kids today. They say it was healthy for us in the long run, but I don't know if that's true. Intestinal worms can do some real damage.

Anyways, what I want to know is how to monetize this misery.

diogeneslaertius's picture



jharry's picture

I inferred that soap might be an answer to tooth decay because it would kill bacteria and stop the plaque formation in my mouth.

So far I've brushed my teeth with soap (the Walmart liquid hand soap) for three years, and I have had no gum or cavity problems, and I have a very clean tooth brush.

I assume it's not false cause and effect. 


Papasmurf's picture

A huge contributor to tooth decay is antidepressants.  They cause dry mouth that fosters decay.  Neanderthals didn't have Prozac.

bugs_'s picture

life expectancy of prehistoric humans vs today.

time wounds all heels

loregnum's picture

Good to know the people who state this as fact knew many prehistoric men and could confirm. Oh yeah, they can't and just make blind assumptions/guesses since that's what science is supposed to be about, correct? At least the "science" when it comes to evolution and other crap from before there is actual real evidence.

Note that I am not denying their guess or agreeing with it. Just kicking out logic which shows it is impossible to make some conclusive statement when nobody has real evidence to prove it unless I am missing the time machine that let these people go back in time and observe. Sorry but 34 skeletons is not conclusive proof unless the amount of people living back then was about 45-50. I am sure these researchers or "science" can tell me what the population was back then since they have the magic census.

It is depressing how science like every other industry has been watered down to support what the people involved in it want. What's more depressing is the mroe absurd "science" gets in its findings based on guess work the mroe people take it as fact. This type of "science" is turning into nothing but another religion. Ugh.

Nehweh Gahnin's picture

On this issue, bro, you are ignorant.

orez65's picture

Science: to be able to predict future outcome and account for all past data.

Al Gore Science: consensus.

What's most scary is that most Americans agree with Gore's definition.

lakecity55's picture

Prehistoric man was not threatened by 32oz ASSAULT sodas.

stiler's picture

Excellent article ,GW! Kudos to Dr. Weston A. Price! Man has lived on the fat and organ meat of grass fed animals from the beginning.

Mrs Stiler and my daughters and I take fermented cod liver oil ea day and eat Tropical Traditions coconut oil; cook w/ it, put it on the skin, as deodorant. It's the best in the world and isn't high heated or deodorized. We're going to try to sell rabbit meat this year. It's very popular bec people don't understand that lean is not good. Should be cooked with a saturated fat like pork. We made copacola etc this year too. And we have Ancona ducks. We had geese for the livers but they're a pain. We are just food snobs I guess.

I read today that they're going to begin putting Aspartame in all milk products and not label it. Aspartame is a brain toxin made from E-coli. They really are trying to kill us.

robertocarlos's picture

They can't include Canada because missing teeth is part of ourt DNA.

BigInJapan's picture

Only the front teeth, though.

jballz's picture

Wake me up when anybody really knows what the fuck is going on.

Pseudo science plaque hater bitchez.

Albertarocks's picture

Linda Perry asks the same question bro, but she does it prettier than you did.  She prays "that everything's Ok for a revolution".  A great freakin' tune...  "What's Up?"

nothing can go wrogn's picture

Pre-agricultural people were also taller, with a more pronounced lower jaw (they kept their wisdom teeth), and they had no auto-immune diseases or cancer.

The modern human is short, sickly, with a receding lower jaw, and wracked by obesity, cancers and auto-immune diseases...but we got ipads, facebooks and fiat bitchez!

Also...the idea that these people lived "short miserable lives" is completely stupid, and just another myth like a "low fat, high carb diet is good for you."

rsnoble's picture

Their life expectancy was 20.  They didn't have the time to get fucking cavities because they had the body of an 80 year old or got ate by a dinosaur.

NoWayJose's picture

Other than a bit of exageration, I don't understand the negative comments here.  Life expectancy really was not much more than your mid-30's and was still only in the mid-40's a couple hundred years ago.  It didn't get a whole lot better than that until we stopped using leeches on sick people.  Yes, sugar and refined grains are more prevalent today, but an abcessed tooth 1000 years ago probably killed you.

TBT or not TBT's picture

A couple hundred years ago = farming era, within the historical record.   Try ten thousand years ago.

Nacho.Libre's picture

Life expectancy was a function of averaging all ages and there was very high infant mortality (washing your hands before delivering a baby was considered pointless).  Once you made it to adulthood, you had a good chance of making it into your 70's and 80's.  The oldest living people alive today generally come from less modernized areas, they grew up and still live on a mostly traditional diet.  They always trot out the life expectancy deal with the founding of social security, too, but people lived into their 80's, you just had to make it past child hood.

AGuy's picture

Also not discussed the very high infant mortally rate. Most children died before reaching four years of age. Children vunerable to disease were culled out of the stock, the survivors were more resistant to diseases. However because childhood diesease no longer weed out people with poor immune systems the majority of the population may be very vulerenable to a pandemic. Those that survived childhood because of medicine, will likely not survive a pandemic when medicine becomes unavailable simply because of the large numbers of infected people.

" but people lived into their 80's, you just had to make it past child hood."

Thats not true. The majority died well before they're hair even turned gray. Many people died from diseases, via water spread dieseases (collera, etc), or from infections (ie cut that wasn't properly keep clean). Violence and serious injuries also had a big impact. A broken Foot or leg was almost always a death sentence. If what you said was true, then human population would have been much much larger in prehistoric times. The evidence shows our numbers were very limited until the adoptation of farming.



rsnoble's picture

Sorry George you know I was just fucking around right?  After a day of charts, figures etc it's pretty easy to spout off comments about goddamn teeth when the world is going to hell.  This article just took me be surprise.  One things for sure our processed foods are killing us and since I have a few missing teeth myself maybe that should say something.  Or then maybe it's because I sit here and grind them reading about all the assholes in world screwing us over everyday.  I prefer the end of the world nuclear radiation coverage lol.

George Washington's picture

When Dr. Weston Price
- founder of the research institute of the National Dental Association,
which later became the research section of the American Dental
Association, who served as its chair from 1914–1928 - traveled the world
to compare the teeth of isolated people living on traditional diets
with people of the same age and tribe who switched to modern diets, he found substantially better health among the traditional eaters:

The "primitive" Seminole girl (top) has a wide, handsome face with
plenty of room for the dental arches. The "modernized" Seminole girl
(bottom) born to parents who had abandoned their traditional diets, has a
narrowed face, crowded teeth, and a reduced immunity to disease.


Samoan boy on the top was born to parents who ate nutrient-rich native
foods. The Samoan boy on the bottom was born to parents who had
abandoned their traditional diet. He has crowded dental arches, and will
be more susceptible to dental decay:


shovelhead's picture

Dr. Rainbow's Honey and Locust puree...

A lovely spread on toast in the morning.

Great with tacos too.

Prevents STD's and male pattern baldness.

tony bonn's picture

this article is most excellent and a topic few folks have considered.....for those wanting to understand better the role of early diets, see drs eadies books about high protein diets and other necessary nutrients necessary to maintain good health.....and ignore the claptrap about low fat diets - more fraud from the same type of nazi idiots who brought us about toxic death promoting evil - fluoride is a complete and total should be outlawed but since amerika is ruled by nazis, it won't be....

TBT or not TBT's picture

Correction:   High FAT and higher protein.    Saturated fat animal fat.    Nearly no consumption of grains.    Consumption of fruit mostly only in season.    I.E. Low Carb.    They also didn't get a lot of industrial vegetable oils loaded with omega-6 fatty acids.     They had better teeth because of less carbohydrate in the mouth, but also because less carbs and less omega-6 fats meant less inflammation body wide, not just in the gums.

Augustus's picture

Finally we have a Geo Wash article with some worthwhile information.

Medicine and dentistry has been all about treating the manisfestations of an unhealthy diet.  Now we have better research that has found that diets with high grain and sugar components cause continual overall body inflamation.  The immune response to that eventually brings on many problems.  Obesiety, diabeties, and maybe cancers and Alzheimers are just the later manisfestations of the problems caused by the poor diets.

A very good book which includes some great information on this subject line is by Gary Taubes and titled "Why We Get Fat."  It pretty well destroyes the FDA's food pyramid recommendations and several other theories on the causes of heart disease.

Nehweh Gahnin's picture

I arrowed you UP, but not because of your dig on Geo.  Despite it.  The rest of your information and comment were worthwhile.  

Nacho.Libre's picture

Read Dr. Weston Price's book, he did a great job of cataloging, back in the 1930's, indigenous groups of people who had not yet moved to a "modern" diet with refined foods. They had cavity rates of less than 1%. They also had fully developed maxiofacial features and fully formed dental arches (no crowding of teeth). He remarks in his book how the crowding of teeth was becoming so prominent that a new sub-specialty of dentistry was emerging called "orthodontics". He debunked the then popular theory that the crowding of teeth was caused by interracial mingling and that big toothed races were mingling with races with small dental arches.

TBT or not TBT's picture

Yep, Gary Taubes also details what was well studied by a great many observers, across time and across the world up through about WWII:   The "diseases of civilisation" came to regions conquered by the west alongside high carbohydrate diet inputs like grains and sugar.    The diseases of civilisaton included diabetes, obesity, and of course all of your circulatory related diseases, and...cancers.     Also, quite probably, gum and tooth maladies too.  During and after WWII the federal government go heavily involved in food research and telling/subsidizing/taxing/regulating food production, and since then then entirely incorrect theories of obesity and cardiovascular disease are commonly held.   For example,saturated fats are considered evil, eating grains and "low fat" foods is good, and vegetable oils are OK.    Uh, no they're not.     Grains and foods produced from them are insulin bombs, very fattening, and together with cheap vegetable oils induce inflammation at the cellular level everywhere in the body.    Until about WWII everybody knew that to loose weight you had to cut back on starchy foods, favoring fats, meat, protein sources.    This worked, and still does.

DaveyJones's picture

very consistent with everything I've read about plant life and human nutrition

we do not need the level of "protein" that we are told / sold

and true, we do not and should not have these grain levels

the body uses consistently more energy converting animal protein to energy

a lot of plant life (usually dark greens) has protein and it is for the most part what we evolved on

once you cross a percentage with animal protein, problems develop

the same is not true for plant protein

The Okinawans are by far the longest living people

check out their diet and life style

When they move to hawaii or take on western eating habbits, it disappears quickly

See: The China Study (biggest human nutrition study) & related work 

(oh...and don't sit on your ass in front of a computer) 

Zap Powerz's picture

"Why We Get Fat" by Gary Taubes is an excellent book and a must read for anyone interested in maintaining good health.

Prescient_Point's picture

For good Teeth and Gum health, ditch the toothpastes having ingredients like Sodium Lauryl Sulphate, Triclosan, Sodium Fluoride and other toxic stuff. Instead, start using plant based toothpastes.

Indians (of Asia) have been using herbal toothpastes/powders for hundreds of years and had managed to fight tooth decay successfully till the multinationals entered and crushed domestic ayurvedic based brands. 


Now that people have started realizing ill effects of fluoridated, chemically complex toothpastes, slowly but surely, the traditional Indian oral care products are making a come back.


Here's a very good ayurvedic herbal toothpaste... excellent medicinal healing properties and very economical




Nehweh Gahnin's picture

Baking soda, salt, tee trea oil, and a bit of peppermint/marigold/pepper for taste.  There ya go.

TBT or not TBT's picture

SLS is a cheap foaming agent, the main ingredient in shaving creams, toothpastes, handsoaps and such.    It is also a known skin irritant, capable of producing dermatitis, and used to do exactly that in clinical dermatology testing, to create a dermatitis condition for subsequent treatment.

There are great replacements for it such as the lauryl glucosides, that are far friendlier.     The Jason brand is great for toothpastes, shampoos, and soaps that don't have SLS.    Everyone ought to try elliminating SLS from their life for a couple of weeks to see any effect.   Ditto with gluten.    Ten to twenty times more people are mererly sensitive to glutens than have full on celiac disease level reactions to it.   Everyone should try ellimnating glutens for two weeks to see what it does for them.    Ditto milk.     If no change, go back.    Thing is, lots of people can't stop eating glutens because they are actually psychoactive, stimulating narcotic receptors in the brain, thanks to peptides produced from them during digestion.   It is no wonder that wheat provides something like 25% of humans calories on this planet today.    It's like eating pure glucose (makes you hungry again very soon after) and it is addictive because of the narcotic effect.

Mercury's picture

Well somehow there was a big window of time between cavemen and agribusiness where people had pretty rotten mouths.

I wouldn't trade George Washington's teeth for mine.

Dre4dwolf's picture

The problem is the flouride, it causes teeth to form poorly with flourosis.

The flouride in the water messes up growth of teeth and then ontop of it people brush with toothpaste made of flouride (rat poison) and crushed glass!


A little baking soda and filtered water would go a long way.


Dont forget the caveman didn't have

-Soda/Refined Sugars

and they didn't drink things that were 50% acid.


DaveyJones's picture

and they didn't have bankers....

lucky fuckers