Dental Maintenance Solutions in the Viking Age

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Dental Maintenance Solutions in the Viking Age

A study by Carolina Bertilsson of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, published December 13 in the open-access journal PLOS One, states that Swedish Vikings tried to treat painful dental issues. Read on and learn more about dental maintenance solutions in the Viking Age.

The study describes what scientists discovered when they analyzed human teeth from about 800 to 1,000 years ago. How was everyday oral health and habits in a Swedish Viking community? The researchers describe the sort of bleak dental picture common to medieval Europe—frequent tooth decay, infections, and tooth loss. In the Viking population studied, 49% had one or more cavities, due largely to a high intake of starchy foods combined with a lack of dental care. Adults lost an average of 6% of their teeth, excluding wisdom teeth, over the course of their lifetimes.

Dental Maintenance Solutions in the Viking Age
The Vikings used toothpicks and engaged in surprisingly advanced dental practices not dissimilar from modern practices to relieve toothache.. Photo: ZME Science.

But the Vikings used toothpicks and engaged in surprisingly advanced dental practices not dissimilar from modern practices to relieve toothache. The study provides a rare insight into Viking life and an essential understanding of our ancestors.

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Related: Health and Medicine in the Viking Scandinavia
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Excavations in Varnhem, Sweden in 2005 uncovered the remains of a Christian church, near which was a cemetery containing thousands of Viking graves dating to the 10th to 12th century AD. In this study, Bertilsson and colleagues performed clinical and radiographical examination of the dentition of individuals from this site. In total, the team analyzed more than 2,300 teeth from 171 individuals.

On the surface of the excavated teeth, close to the root, the researchers also spotted signs of abrasion like that caused by toothpicks, an indication Vikings attempted to tend to their pearly whites. And the scientists found molars with holes that stretched from the crown into the pulp, likely dug to relieve pressure and excruciating toothaches caused by infections that would have resulted in pus-filled abscesses.

Dental Maintenance Solutions in the Viking Age
To date, there have only been a handful of published studies about the dental health of Swedish Vikings. Photo: Swedenphys.org

To date, there have only been a handful of published studies about the dental health of Swedish Vikings. So, researchers from the University of Gothenburg’s Institute of Odontology jumped at the opportunity to examine the teeth, working with an osteologist, a bone specialist, from Västergötlands museum, where the bones are now kept, to uncover their secrets.

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You may also like to read: Sensational Archeological Excavation in Denmark
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More than 60% of the examined adults had signs of dental caries (tooth decay), most often on the root surface, while none of the juvenile individuals had caries. Other pathologies were also observed, including tooth infection and indications of teeth having been lost before death. Several individuals had caries severe enough to have caused tooth pain, and the authors noted a few cases of tooth abrasion that were likely intentional modifications intended to lessen tooth pain.

“This is very exciting to see, and not unlike the dental treatments we carry out today when we drill into infected teeth,” researcher, practicing dentist and the study’s lead author Carolina Bertilsson, said in a statement. “It also suggests that dentistry in the Viking Age was probably more sophisticated than previously thought,” she added.

Dental Maintenance Solutions in the Viking Age
More than 60% of the examined adults had signs of dental caries (tooth decay), most often on the root surface, while none of the juvenile individuals had caries. Photo: Yoichi Ishizuka

“In a Swedish Viking population, around half of the individuals suffered from dental caries. The Vikings performed both tooth filing, tooth picking, and other dental treatment, including attempts to treat dental infections,” the authors concluded.

What was of most interest to the researchers, though, was that they observed attempts to look after teeth in various ways.

Dental Maintenance Solutions in the Viking Age, written by Tor Kjolberg

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Journalist, PR and marketing consultant Tor Kjolberg has several degrees in marketing management. He started out as a marketing manager in Scandinavian companies and his last engagement before going solo was as director in one of Norway’s largest corporations. Tor realized early on that writing engaging stories was more efficient and far cheaper than paying for ads. He wrote hundreds of articles on products and services offered by the companies he worked for. Thus, he was attuned to the fact that storytelling was his passion.

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