June 30, 2016
Pompeii is one of the most tragic, highly romanticized events in human history. If you are unfamiliar with the story of Pompeii, it was a bustling Roman city that, in 79 C.E. was completely buried in volcanic ash after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Nothing survived the explosion, and the town lay buried and forgotten until 1748. What makes Pompeii so amazing is the fact that the volcanic ash perfectly preserved the city and gives archaeologists, and now tourists, the ability to look back in time at the way Romans behaved in everyday life.
Now, what does that have to do with dentistry? Well, when Pompeii erupted, the bodies of Pompeii residents were encapsulated in ash. Over time, their bodies decomposed leaving only their teeth and bones. When the town was discovered, scientists used a technique called plaster casting where the pockets created by the bodies in the ash could be filled with plaster revealing detailed recreations of the residents in their final moments. When a team of scientists studied 86 casts of human remains, they were shocked to discover that they all had perfect teeth.
But how could this be possible? One would think that, in 79 C.E., over 600 years before dentistry was even categorized as a medical profession, teeth would be rotten and disfigured. In fact, toothbrushes and toothpaste had not even been invented yet. How can an entire city with no dentistry like we have today have perfect teeth?
Scientists theorize that the perfect Pompeii pearly whites had a lot to do with their low-sugar diets. According to the findings, Pompeii residents ate a lot of fruits and vegetables but not a lot of sugar. In fact, sugar was not really popular for consumption until the 18th century where, in 1750, it exceeded grain as the most valuable commodity in Europe, making up a fifth of all imports to the continent. This low sugar diet protected their teeth from decay and enabled them to have effortlessly, perfect teeth.