Milk, Teeth, and Ancient Humans

Milk. The delicious beverage that makes our lattes foamy, our ice cream creamy, and our milk shakes, well, milky. Milk is everywhere! In fact, milk is so pervasive to us humans we probably forget how unique our relationship with milk is. For example, our species is the only one in existence whose adults consume milk. All other mammalian species only drink milk as babies.

Anthropologists have been pondering this mystery for years and have theorized where our milk-drinking obsession began. Until now, there has been little direct evidence to test these theories besides studying genes in different populations. Researchers think they have found direct evidence that can trace our milk-consuming history back to its roots. They discovered milk proteins in samples of dental plaque from ancient human teeth. That’s right, they discovered 5,000-year-old plaque build-up from early man drinking too much milk and not brushing and flossing enough!

The markers indicating the presence of milk in the ancient plaque were not found in all the specimens studied. As expected, adult human remains tested from areas where dairy animals were not utilized, such as West Africa, had no traces of milk in their dental plaque. Ancient Europeans, who we know have been raising dairy animals for millennia, did test positive. As more specimens are tested and more results come in, a road map will begin to form that will show the journey our milk-drinking genes took around the world.

As we continue to enjoy this subtly sweet beverage, remember that milk lactose is a sugar and can lead to cavities just like other sweets. Always brush after consuming any food, including milk. If it’s been a while since your last checkup, make an appointment to have us remove your ancient plaque!

To read the full article visit Science Daily.

dental plaque