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Surprising Dental Secrets of Vikings Unearthed: What Teeth Tell Us About Ancient Swedish Lives

A Peek into Viking Oral Health

New research conducted in Varnhem, Sweden, has uncovered fascinating insights into the dental health of Vikings. This pioneering study, led by Carolina Bertilsson and her team, meticulously examined the dental remains of ancient Vikings, providing a unique window into their health and lifestyle. 

By analysing 3,293 teeth from 171 Viking individuals, the research reveals not just common dental conditions but also offers a glimpse into the everyday lives and challenges faced by these historic figures. This exploration into Viking oral health marks a significant advancement in our understanding of ancient societies, bridging the gap between history and medicine.

Viking Dental Ailments Uncovered

The comprehensive study brought to light the extent of dental ailments among the Vikings. A notable finding was the widespread occurrence of dental caries, especially among adults. 

The data revealed that almost half of the adult Viking population suffered from some form of tooth decay. This indicates that dental issues were a common health concern in that era. 

Surprisingly, the study found no evidence of caries in the younger population with deciduous or mixed dentition. This suggests differences in diet or oral hygiene practices across age groups. The most commonly affected tooth was the first mandibular molar, with a higher susceptibility to decay observed in the root surfaces. These findings also offer insights into their diet and lifestyle.

Methodical Examination: Clinical and Radiographic Insights

In this groundbreaking study, the team employed a meticulous approach combining clinical examinations with radiographic analysis. Dental probes and strong light sources were used to examine teeth and jaws, ensuring precise identification of dental conditions.

For a subset of 18 individuals, radiographic examinations complemented these findings, offering a more in-depth view of the internal structures of the teeth. This dual method was crucial in accurately diagnosing manifest carious lesions and other dental pathologies. 

Furthermore, the team used statistical techniques to explore the relationship between dental conditions and age among the Vikings. This methodical approach in examining ancient dental remains has provided a more detailed understanding of the dental health issues that afflicted the Viking population.

Diet and Dental Care: A Viking Perspective

The research delved into the dietary habits of the Vikings and their impact on dental health. Vikings predominantly consumed a terrestrial-based diet, with minimal aquatic food sources. 

This diet was rich in fermentable carbohydrates from natural sources like fruits, honey, and malt. It is thought to have contributed significantly to the high incidence of dental caries. The absence of modern dental care practices further exacerbated these issues. 

The study suggests that the Vikings’ consumption of coarse, starchy foods, combined with a lack of oral hygiene, likely led to the widespread dental ailments observed. These insights into the Vikings’ diet and dental care practices provide a clearer picture of their daily lives and the health challenges they faced.

Cultural Practices and Dental Modifications

The study unearthed fascinating aspects of Viking culture, particularly through the analysis of dental modifications. Significantly, the evidence of tooth manipulation for aesthetic or therapeutic reasons highlighted a unique aspect of Viking society. The discovery of filed front teeth in a male individual, for instance, suggests that dental modification was perhaps a cultural or identity marker among Vikings.

Moreover, this finding illustrates a sophisticated approach to dental practices in Viking society. It underscores the importance placed on teeth, not solely for functional purposes but also as a means of personal or cultural expression. Consequently, these dental modifications, coupled with other observed conditions, offer a rare and insightful glimpse into the daily lives, health management practices, and cultural norms of the Vikings.

Furthermore, by delving into the past and exploring these ancient practices, we gain invaluable insights into present and future health practices. This analysis emphasises the enduring connection between history, culture, and medicine, highlighting how our ancestors’ lifestyles and choices continue to inform and influence modern health understandings.

References

  1. Bertilsson, C. (2023, December 13). Caries prevalence and other dental pathological conditions in Vikings from Varnhem, Sweden. PLOS ONE. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0295282

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