This is not the kind of news you’ll want to read just after receiving baskets full of Easter candy, but our ancient Roman ancestors had some pretty nice teeth and researchers believe this was due to their diet, which was low in sugar. One side of me is saying this is what dentures were made for, as I grab another candy bar, but the other side is telling me that eating as the Romans did could lessen the chance of me having to hear my dental hygienist remind me of the importance of regular flossing. Either way, it involves sugar, so let’s find out how the Romans handled it.
Using CAT scans, scientists are studying the remains of 30 men, women and children who were killed in the Mount Vesuvius eruption in Pompeii in AD 79. Although they were researching many other aspects of the Roman people, the most surprising discovery had to do with what good shape their teeth were in. One thing they attributed this to was their diet, which is low in sugar and high in fiber. The aptly named Mediterranean diet that many follow today is based on what these ancient Romans ate.
Needless to say, the Romans ate better than we do. Their diet consisted of lots of fruits and vegetables and very few sugary foods; almost the exact opposite of what many of us eat on a daily basis. In return for eating well, their teeth were in very good condition, despite not having things like toothpaste and toothbrushes. Hey, if giving up sugar could save me from having to brush my teeth a couple times a day, I may be in.
The horrible tragedies that the Mount Vesuvius eruption caused also showed up in 3D scans the researchers performed on the remains. Many of the victims had cranial damage, most likely caused by falling debris during the eruption. Researchers also found that the victims’ bones were deteriorating. This was likely due to the high levels of fluoride in the Pompeii water supply.
The way in which the victims at Pompeii died provided a unique challenge for scientists to be able to study them. As Mount Vesuvius erupted and ash covered the town, the people left behind suffocated and were buried. As time passed, the ash hardened and turned into pumice, which encased their bodies. Over time, the ancient Romans’ soft tissue rotted away, leaving only skeletal cavities.
It was archaeologists from the 19th century who figured out how to study the Pompeii victims. By pouring plaster into the skeletal cavities and chipping away the pumice, molds were created which could be used for research. These are the molds that are being studied now and have provided valuable information such as the ancient Romans’ low-sugar diet.