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Vikings had surprisingly advanced dentistry skills 1000 years ago

Recent research at the University of Gothenburg has shed light on surprising dentistry practices among the Viking Age population in Varnhem, Västergötland, Sweden. The study, which involved a comprehensive examination of Viking teeth, reveals not only widespread dental problems but also evidence of advanced dentistry, including tooth filing and treatment of infections.

Extensive research on Viking teeth

The research team, consisting of experts from the University of Gothenburg’s Institute of Odontology and an osteologist from Västergötland’s Museum, conducted an in-depth study of 3,293 teeth from 171 individuals. These teeth, extracted from well-preserved skeletons found in Viking and medieval tombs in Varnhem, were subjected to clinical examinations using modern dentistry tools and X-ray techniques.

The findings are quite revealing. Almost half (49%) of the Viking population studied had one or more caries lesions, with 13% of adult teeth affected, mainly at the roots. Intriguingly, children with milk teeth or a mix of milk and adult teeth showed no signs of caries.

Tooth loss was a common phenomenon, with adults losing about 6% of their teeth, excluding wisdom teeth, over their lifetimes. The risk of tooth loss correlated with age, indicating a pattern of dental deterioration.

Evidence of Viking dental care

Despite these dental issues, the study also uncovered evidence of dental care practices. Carolina Bertilsson, a dentist and Associate Researcher and the study’s lead author, noted signs of dental hygiene and treatment efforts.

“There were several signs that the Vikings had modified their teeth, including evidence of using toothpicks, filing front teeth, and even dental treatment of teeth with infections,” she stated.

The research highlighted parallels between Viking and contemporary dental practices. Some molars showed filed holes leading into the tooth pulp, likely done to alleviate severe toothache caused by infection.

“This is very exciting to see, and not unlike the dental treatments we carry out today when we drill into infected teeth,” Bertilsson remarked. The study suggests that Vikings might have possessed substantial dental knowledge, though it’s unclear whether these procedures were self-administered or performed by others.

Cultural significance of Viking dentistry

The study also touches on the cultural aspects of dental practices among the Vikings. The filing of front teeth, observed primarily in males, might have served as an identity marker in Viking society.

Bertilsson added, “This study provides new insights into Viking oral health and indicates that teeth were important in Varnhem’s Viking culture. It also suggests that dentistry in the Viking Age was probably more sophisticated than previously thought.”

In summary, the research conducted at the University of Gothenburg opens a new window into the Viking Age, challenging previous assumptions about dental care during this period.

The findings highlight the prevalence of dental issues among the Vikings and underscore their efforts at dental care and treatment, drawing surprising parallels with modern dentistry. This study significantly contributes to our understanding of Viking culture and their approach to health and hygiene.

The full study was published in the journal PLoS ONE.


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