It’s hard to imagine that human teeth have changed throughout history, but they have. Some of our earliest human ancestors — the people who were people before the Homo sapiens existed — dating back seven million years had remarkably different dentition than we do today. While some early hominids, such as Australopithecus afarensis, had the same number of teeth as we do, they were spaced differently due to differences in the size and shape of the jawbone.
Despite these differences in structure, it was thought that early humans didn’t consume nearly as much hard, woody plant matter (like seeds, nuts and shells) as they could have. But new research points to quite the opposite — that tougher plant matter made up a large portion of early human diets without causing painful or undue wear and tear on the earliest hominids’ teeth.
The newest findings, published in the January 17, 2020, issue of the scientific journal Nature, posit that early humans had a diet richer in woody plant material than was previously thought. Existing research had assumed that seeds and nuts would leave pitting and scarring on tooth enamel, indicating a possible lack of these tough dietary staples in early human diets.
The new research, conducted by anthropologists at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, shows that a lack of pitting and scarring on teeth doesn’t necessarily indicate a lack of woody plant material in diets — only that our early ancestors were able to easily eat such foods without putting excessive wear and tear on their teeth.
What It Means for Science
Tracking wear patterns of the teeth of early humans is one way to determine how they lived. More specifically, it gives clues about their diets. Since so much of early modern life revolved around finding enough to eat, the determination that plant matter made up a more significant portion of dietary intake than previously thought could have far-reaching implications for the study of how the earliest hominids existed.
If people weren’t constantly in search of nutritious food, they were free to pursue other things like finding new ways to make eating that food easier, creating more adequate shelter and producing more offspring — all factors that contributed to the rise of Homo sapiens, the humans of today.
How It Affects Our Dental Practices
While the teeth of our early hominid ancestors may not seem, at first glance, to have any bearing on our dental care today, it’s possible that we could find some presently useful takeaways from the research. Namely, stronger jawbones can lead to less dental damage when chewing tougher foods. That’s not to say your dentist will prescribe a regimented jaw workout if your teeth show early signs of wear, tear and damage, but it further underscores the importance of maintaining your overall health and wellness to maintain your dental health and oral hygiene.
Our teeth also aren’t as tough as those of our ancestors — a fact made abundantly clear by the study. As such, we need to take greater care when chewing tough foods than our ancestors did. As our teeth and jaws evolved, so did our dental care — you have an advantage over the early hominids in that your dentist can assist you with taking great care of your teeth, gums, lips and tongue.
Book Your Appointment Today
Unlike the earliest humans, you don’t have an oversized jawbone. If a sunflower seed snack or a toasted nut on your morning bagel caused a toothache or damage, the office of Drs. Krieger and Hur can help. And thankfully, our practices aren’t ancient enough to be Neanderthal — we leverage the best and latest technology to make every part of the dental process as easy, quick and painless as possible.
While looking back on human history can be fun, we’re big fans of modern conveniences. To book your appointment today, give us a call at (201) 560-0606. Or click here to send us an email — it couldn’t get any easier to secure your spot. Someone will be in touch with you to schedule your appointment after receiving your first contact. We can’t wait to have you in our chair!