Welcome to Julian Webber's blog where he muses on a range of topics including some of his most interesting cases,
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Death by dental decay

LinenMan_Skull_Front copy copy

Just how devastating it was to have dental decay before the era of modern dentistry is forcefully illustrated by an exhibition at the British Museum called Ancient Lives, new discoveries. The exhibition focuses on the lives of eight people who lived in Egypt and Sudan over several centuries prior to and spanning the start of the Christian era. The bodies have either been embalmed or mummified. Thanks to advances in CT scanning, the bodies are delivering valuable information to researchers. (It’s extraordinary to think that the mummies are being transported to a hospital for scanning and that modern technology can deliver insights into bodies which are centuries old).

The exhibition curators share the information they have gleaned from the body, the grave and any objects the person was buried with. They are unable to tell us how any of them died. What they can tell us is the pathological conditions the people were suffering from.

The most common condition to emerge is dental disease. Four of the bodies – The man embalmed for the Afterlife, Tamut, the priest’s daughter, Padiament the temple doorkeeper and an unusual mummy from the Roman period – had dental abscesses and would have been in considerable discomfort. It’s possible that at least one of the people  - The man embalmed for the Afterlife – might have died as a result of the infection entering the bloodstream.

Why was decay a problem? They probably ate a lot of sugar and their molar teeth appear to have been worn down by a fibrous or gritty diet. All aspects of the exhibition are fascinating, especially the way the people worshipped and lived, but undoubtedly to me the most interesting aspect was the insight I got into the appalling burden of dental disease in Ancient civilisations. The exhibition is on until April 19th . http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/ancient_lives.aspx


© Trustees of the British Museum The image above is the skull of the British Museum’s Man embalmed for the Afterlife;  look carefully and below his lower front teeth you will see the hole in the jaw caused by dental abscesses

One Response to Death by dental decay

  1. Thanks for the informative article. Now we should aware of dental decay.

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