News FocusEvolutionary Biology

An Evolutionary Theory of Dentistry

Science  25 May 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6084, pp. 973-975
DOI: 10.1126/science.336.6084.973

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According to work presented at a recent meeting, human teeth, jaws, and mouths are not adapted in a healthy way to the diet of modern industrial society. We evolved to thrive on coarse seeds, nuts, tubers, fruit, and meat. The mismatch between our adaptations and our environment causes the dental cavities, overcrowding of teeth, overbite, and gum disease that run rampant today. A study of two Maya villages presented at the meeting offers before-and-after images of a population undergoing the so-called nutrition transition in which people switch from a traditional subsistence diet to an Industrial Age diet of refined sugars and processed foods. At the meeting, an unusual mix of paleoanthropologists, archaeologists, dental researchers, and food scientists explored what is known about the diets and dental health of ancient humans, and how that information might be useful to dentists today.