A Brief History of Teeth: Exploring the Fascinating Evolution

July 14, 2023

Filed under: Uncategorized — drbc @ 9:01 pm
A mother and daughter looking at a museum display

Through geological surveys and the brilliant work of anthropologists who study ancient human remains, we know that teeth didn’t always exist the way they do today. Ancient man had a different lifestyle and their teeth adapted to their changing environment and appetites over the course of generations.

Today, we can go to the dentist to have preventive dentistry treatments before we have problems with our teeth. Five million years ago in ancient jungles, not so much. So, what differences can we see in the jaw and teeth of early man? What does this say about where we are now? Continue reading to discover the captivating history of pearly whites.

7 to 5.5 Million Years Ago: Earliest Known Specimens of Ancient Teeth

Our earliest ancestors more closely resembled chimpanzees in their jaw structure. Imagine having a long projecting face with large, pointed canines. Because of the relatively thin enamel found in these ancient teeth, it’s speculated that the diet of early man consisted of fruits, insects, and other plants.

If you look at the diet of modern chimps, that seems to be in line as they predominantly eat the same things. The only exceptions are adult male chimps who will seek out fish or other sources of meat on a regular basis.

4 to 1.8 Million Years Ago: Dramatic Changes in Jaws

Scientists have discovered a drastic shift in tooth structure around 4 million years ago, suggesting that some of our ancestors began foraging and hunting outside of jungles and began to eat other things like seeds and other animals. The enamel on these teeth is thicker, which would have been needed to grind up tougher food.

The canines of these later human ancestors were also shorter, suggesting that they were no longer using them for display or defense. Likely, their canines stopped developing because humans began to use tools to catch and kill prey rather than use their mouths.

This is the period we begin to see the hunter-gatherer lifestyle emerge.

250,000 Years Ago to Today: The Modern Era of Teeth

The modern era saw human facial structures dramatically change again. Human brains grew in size and density, requiring a more vertical shape to hold them while keeping a balanced, upright posture. Their jaws also continued to shorten—the only evidence of our previously elongated jaws being a pointed chin.

It’s theorized that the new shorter and more arched shape of the jaw was better for speaking and protected the teeth from damage. Modern humans also have much thicker enamel than our ancestors, allowing them to eat a much wider variety of food.

Anthropology is a fascinating science that seeks answers to modern questions by exploring the past. As knowledge of ancient people expands, remember that much of it is made possible by the study of teeth!

About the Practice

Dr. Andrew M. Nawrocki and Dr. Kimberly Dennis believe the best approach to proper care is having a conversation. Both doctors are highly educated professionals who take part in multiple professional organizations like the American College of Prosthodontists, and the Florida Dental Association. Dr. Nawrocki was also named a Fellow in the International Congress of Oral Implantologists, a prestigious honor. To schedule an appointment or to ask about other treatments offered at Brown & Nawrocki Restorative and Cosmetic Dentistry, visit the website here or call (386) 677-1046.

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