The Anthropology of Teeth – An Interview with Dr. Brunacini  Part 3: If These Teeth Could Talk

The Anthropology of Teeth – An Interview with Dr. Brunacini Part 3: If These Teeth Could Talk

Need a fun conversation topic for your Thanksgiving gathering?  How about teeth? Our teeth are fascinating!  More than mere pearly chompers that chew your food and give you a beautiful smile, they can also convey a lot of information about us.  Just ask Dr. Brunacini, your dentist and favorite amateur dental anthropologist!  This month we close our interview series with Dr. Brunacini on Dental Anthropology.  Join us for Part 3: If These Teeth Could Talk.

Why are teeth such a useful tool in studying our past?

Dr. Brunacini:  Teeth can give us a snapshot in time about someone’s life, such as their age as well as their diet.  They are exposed to our diet in ways that other body parts are not, so they often can convey useful information about a person and their environment. Also, teeth are unique in that they are slow to decompose.  Your tooth enamel is the hardest substance in your body, stronger than your bones!  

What can an anthropologist learn from our teeth?

Dr. Brunacini:  Anthropologists can learn a lot from our teeth.  Teeth can help determine how old a person was at death, what kind of health they were in, and what kind of diet they had.  Teeth can even provide information about the human’s cultural rituals, such as cultures where dental modifications played an important role.

What is something fascinating you’ve learned from the study of teeth?

Dr. Brunacini:  For me, the most interesting thing is how our jaws have become smaller over time, possibly due to diet changes, which has contributed to some common chronic diseases. Of course, with smaller jaws there is less room in our mouth for our teeth, which has made wisdom tooth extractions commonplace.  Also, sleep apnea and acid reflux are very common diagnoses now that have some connection to jaw development from a young age.

As a dentist, is there an example of information that a patient’s teeth tells you that perhaps they themselves do not?

Dr. Brunacini:  In modern days, the teeth we examine and evaluate daily gives us insight into a patient’s overall health. We commonly discuss issues such as bruxism (tooth grinding) with our patients, but we can also see signs of acid reflux and even sleep apnea that can affect the entire body. A patient may not be aware that their teeth can provide us with this sort of information about their health, or that as their dentist we can help them.  Our goal is to be a partner for our patients in their oral care, which includes their overall health, and we are always happy to discuss treatment options that can help improve the health of their teeth and their body!

Thank you, Dr. Brunacini!

If you have questions about your teeth or need to schedule your next appointment, please give us a call at 207.781.5900. 

The Anthropology of Teeth – An Interview with Dr. Brunacini  Part 3: If These Teeth Could Talk

The Anthropology of Teeth – Part 1: An Interview with Dr. Brunacini

It may surprise you to know that our wonderful Dr. Brunacini loves to learn about teeth!  Not just as a dentist, but also as an anthropologist… Dr. Brunacini is fascinated by the field of Dental Anthropology.  We had to get to the root of the matter, so we’re kicking off Part 1 of an interview series with Professor Brunacini to learn more about the history of our teeth and Dental Anthropology.

What is Dental Anthropology?

Dr. Bruncaini:  Dental anthropology is a branch of physical anthropology that focuses on the development, evolution, and variability of teeth and related orofacial structures.  In other words, it’s about the history of teeth in humans.  What more could a dentist ask for in a field of study?

What interests you about this field?

Dr. Brunacini:  A lot!  By learning about how structures in the mouth form, we can learn how we are related to other animals.  We can also learn about the history of different cultures throughout time.  For example, we can learn about the foods they ate or how healthy they were overall. 

What is something that surprised or fascinated you in your research?

Dr. Brunacini:  I had no idea how long basic dentistry has been around.  There is a record of beeswax dental fillings from 6500 years ago!  It is incredible to witness the drive of humans to innovate and try to improve their well being by using their environment.  This is something we still do today.  

Where can people learn more?

Dr. Brunacini:  People who are interested in learning more can visit The Dental Anthropology Association website.  It’s a great resource.  Or patients can feel free to ask me more at their next appointment!  


Thank you, Dr. Brunacini!

We’ll continue this exploration and delve a little deeper into this interesting topic in the coming months.  If you have a question about dental anthropology or need to schedule your next appointment please give us a call at 207.781.5900.