The evolution of the oral microbiome

Paleo diet, studying hunter-gatherers to live as our ancestors did? Often it makes sense to compare modern lifestyle to prehistoric, although it has its biases, too.

From an evolutionary perspective, the past 70 thousand years is a blink of an eye. Homo sapiens s. as a species, haven’t changed much biologically. Yet, we’ve formed and changed our world in an unbelievable way. Evolution works on a different timescale.
We sometimes assume, that the way we lived in the past is better compared to the present. The modern ways seem like causing more harm than good. Moving often, hunting-gathering, being exposed to sunshine, spending time in nature is how we naturally evolved.

There is more and more scientific research looking into those areas. The benefits of sun exposure, forest bathing, regular exercise is huge. Not only on the physical body but mentally and spiritually as well.

One could also argue that we used to live shorter, so many problems had not enough time to develop. Infections, injuries, saber-tooth tigers killed us before now-so-prevalent conditions developed. Researching this field is limited. There are many dark areas here and most of the results based on assumptions.

The subtle changes that happened however have impacts on our modern life. I’m trying to focus on oral health aspects. Examining fossil teeth, calculus, and jaw we saw that tooth decay and gum disease were much less frequent in the past.

Studying present time hunter-gatherers (e.g Hadza) showed that indeed they have healthier teeth and gums in general. Most notably, because the microbial community (microbiota) in the mouth has higher biodiversity.

A growing number of research studies show the importance of diversity in the microbiome and its connection to normal functioning.

The first major change happened after the agricultural revolution. We started to eat more starchy grains. Before that humans ate the diet we consider paleo now. Consisting mostly of plants, tubers, nuts meat, and occasional fruit or honey consumption.

With the industrial revolution, more processed food came. Sugar and starchy carbs have become cheaper and abundant. This resulted in shifts in the oral microbiome.

Since then we’ve experienced steady growth in chronic conditions, including tooth decay and gum disease. Some hypothesize that jaw, face malformations, crooked teeth are also related to the fact that jaws and muscles are used in a less-than-ideal way.

Recently we’re starting to understand that constant disruption of the healthy microbiota is wrong. I think being in alignment with nature and our biology is the way to exist in the 21st century.

Supporting the mouth with probiotics and prebiotics is one way. So as a complex superorganism we function normally. Science and technology should be used when it’s proven to improve the quality of life for all.

Understanding the secondary and further consequences of progress is not easy, often just happens in a hindsight. However, it starts with increasing awareness of our body and mouth.


Further read and references:


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published