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The Power of Two

Neanderthal Dentists

Published March 26, 2014 9:08 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

As biologists, we know when a living organism dies, the teeth and bones exist on for thousands of years. Today I was reading article about not only the teeth, but tooth tartar being found in the mouths of humans living over a thousands of years.

This is fascinating in that the bacterium that lives on thousand-year old teeth can be compared to current day bacteria inhabitants. It seems that dental plaque accumulates at the base of teeth and is mineralized when calcium and phosphorus in saliva combine to form calcium phosphate.

This hardening process locks bacteria into a crystalline matrix similar to bone, entombing and preserving dead microbes for thousands of years.

Current collaborative dental and archeology research support that the DNA found in ancient tooth tartar can show what bacterial communities that have lived in human mouths for 8,000 years. For example, genetic studies on a small piece of dental tartar from a thousand year old jaw illustrated the differences in the oral bacteria of early humans as compared with modern humans.

The research idea was the brain child of both biological anthropologist Alan Cooper and archaeologist Keith Dobney. A gift of an aged block of fossilized tartar from Dobney to Cooper promoted the microbial study of food trace elements. Cooper's research afforded him to gaze into the evolution of the human micro biota and of human disease. A little over 20 years since the gift from Dobney couple with more modern lab technology, scientist Cooper and his colleagues has been able to trace how the bacterial communities that live in our mouths have changed over the past several thousand years.

We know from modern dentistry that bacteria found in our mouths are constantly in contact with our digestive, cardiovascular and respiratory tracts which have multiple health and nutritional considerations. The findings of Cooper and others interested in this collaborative field will assist genetic archaeology on a promising path for disease prevention and wellness implications for the future.

posted by Eleanor Wolfram

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