Decay stems from a poor diet and lack of dental care. A build-up of plaque on the teeth produces tooth decay. Bacteria in the plaque feed on sugars from food and drink. The resulting acid slowly destroys teeth. Although healthy adult teeth will come through in children whose milk teeth have been affected by decay, if such bad habits become ingrained, future problems will occur.
A few years ago, I saw this happening in a young girl whose parents ran the local shop. Sweets, chocolates and candies were on every shelf and she could help herself. All her tiny milk teeth were decayed. So sad.
Surely, people who lived long ago in a pristine environment didn't have this problem. Today's news reveals otherwise. Even in earlier hunter-gatherer societies, the sugar-rich content in some plant foods was causing difficulties.
Scientists reviewed the dental condition of 52 skeletons dug up at the Grotte des Pigeons complex at Taforalt in eastern Morocco over the past 10 years. These remains covered a period from 13,700 years ago to about 15,000 years ago. All bar three individuals displayed tooth decay, with cavities or other lesions affecting more than half of the surviving teeth. In some individuals, the oral health was so bad that destructive abscesses had developed.
Wild plant remains in the area indicate these Stone Age people were snacking frequently on snails, sweet acorns, pine nuts and pistachios. Sweet acorns, neat packets of carbohydrates, were a particularly dominant feature in the diet, and they may have been the prime cause of much of the dental decay. Cooking would have made the acorns sticky. That would have slid into gaps in the teeth, which would have made the whole condition worse.
Sugary food available in modern societies is an ever-present problem, but it was not always quite so bad. Dental health took a definite turn for the worse when people settled into agricultural communities with domesticated crops and started to consume far more carbohydrates.
So, now I don't feel quite so bad about drizzling honey over my morning porridge. Good and bad balance equally in this nutritious breakfast. As long as I clean my teeth after I've eaten, and visit the dentist regularly, I should be cavity free from now on.
What about mankind's future dental health? That's open for speculation. The characters in my four co-written futuristic novels live in Britland after the Great Flood—a land returned to the wild. Only broken articles and crumbling buildings give glimpses of the past society. After they've eaten roasted meat and herbs, they chew on sticks and charcoal from the fire to keep their teeth clean. See—I think of everything.
My neighbor says the books are pessimistic. In his opinion, technology will lift us above any catastrophe.