Why did prehistoric humans have straight teeth?

When we examine the skulls of prehistoric people, we see that their teeth were often straight and healthy, even without modern dental care. This is in stark contrast to the dental problems that plague many people today, such as impacted wisdom teeth or crowded teeth. So how did prehistoric people manage to have such healthy teeth?

One of the main factors behind this trend is the shrinking size of human jaws, which resulted in teeth crowding together. In recent centuries, impacted wisdom teeth have become incredibly common: according to the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, 90% of people have at least one impacted wisdom tooth. However, in the pre-industrial era, wisdom teeth were much less common, and other dental problems were less prevalent.

Before the dawn of agriculture, questionable wisdom teeth were very rare, and prehistoric humans had jaws that were incredibly crooked. Moreover, most hunter-gatherers had near-perfect teeth, and orthodontists and dentists were rarely needed in the Stone Age. The lack of tight teeth in people of the past is closely related to the reduction in jaw size noted in a number of scientific studies.

In 2015, scientists studied 292 human skeletons found in the Levant, Anatolia and Europe dating from 28,000 to 6,000 years ago. The results showed that people from later agricultural communities had smaller (and differently shaped) mandibles compared to earlier hunter-gatherers. This probably reflects the radical dietary changes that occurred throughout human history.

Before the advent of agriculture, about 12,000 years ago, humans ate meat and uncultivated plants, which were tougher and required more careful chewing. After the agricultural revolution, humans had greater access to foods such as easily digestible vegetables, grain products and rice, which required less jaw effort to chew. In the modern era, with the advent of processed and ultra-processed foods whose consumption does not require much jaw work, the situation has become much more sloppy.

Most experts believe that the reduction in jaw size is due to the food we consumed in infancy during jaw development. The time frame for this change is extremely short from an evolutionary perspective, and the difference can be noticed after only a few generations. Therefore, the change in jaw size is most likely not genetic.

In conclusion, prehistoric humans had straight teeth and healthy teeth because they had uncurved jaws and ate harder foods that required more thorough chewing of food. However, with the advent of agriculture and processed foods, our diets have become much easier to chew, resulting in smaller jaws and dental problems such as ingrown wisdom teeth.

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