What Teeth Tell Us About Columbus


Next Monday is Columbus Day, in celebration of Christopher Columbus’ voyage across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain to the Americas in 1492. Many people know the story of Columbus, but did you know we’ve learned a lot about his journey from teeth? Each person’s teeth are unique and different, varying according to diet, location, and daily habits. As such, they are often very important to anthropological studies. This week, we’ll explain what tooth chemistry has taught us about the early days of the New World and how you can take care of yours.

La Isabela Settlement

About two years after Columbus sailed into the Caribbean, about a thousand of his crewmembers created their first long-term settlement in the northern Dominican Republic. La Isabela had all the makings of a great town; artisans, soldiers, and citizens came and built a church, houses, storerooms, and—of course—a giant statue of their leader, Columbus. However, a massive hurricane in 1495, combined with rampant disease, mutiny, and mismanagement, caused most to abandon La Isabela after just three years. About 500 years later, excavators discovered skeletons in the church’s cemetery and began analyzing them to learn more about this oft-forgotten colony.

It’s All In the Teeth

While the skeletons were discovered in the 1980s, scientists began studying them much more recently. In 2009, they used the chemical composition of skeletons’ teeth to learn more about where the crewmembers hailed from. More so than many bones, tooth enamel is very sensitive to its circumstances. Basically, the molecules of your teeth record information about your young life, diet, and environment. Scientists at the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s Laboratory for Archaeological Chemistry studied the ratios of certain elements in skeletons’ teeth to determine where they were from.

The proportions of each element reveals something different about the crewmember. Chemists use strontium levels to determine where a crewmember grew up, carbon to assess diet, and oxygen to learn more about the climate where the person lived. This particular study made headlines not for its fascinating use of teeth, but because it showed that Columbus’ crew may have included three free African American men, who would be some of the earliest to come to the Americas.

Taking Care of Your Dental Chemistry

While much has changed in the last five centuries, the way your diet, upbringing, and environment affect your teeth has not. Many chemical processes change the way your teeth look and feel. For example, acids in citrus and sodas can begin to break down the enamel of your teeth, making them more vulnerable to cavities and sensitive to heat or cold. As such, patients should minimize their exposure to harmful acids by brushing and flossing or even simply rinsing with water after drinking juices or soft drinks. Your teeth depend on certain minerals, such as calcium, to remain healthy and strong, which is why we sometimes recommend MI paste to remineralize weakened teeth. Of course, you should also have regular cleanings to ensure your teeth’s chemistry is properly balanced.

As the La Isabela study shows, chemists could pinpoint the region of Africa the crewmembers came from simply by examining their teeth because the chemical composition of teeth is so sensitive during childhood. This is why we recommend that children have fluoride treatments, which encourage calcium and phosphate production in teeth. We also sometimes recommend sealants to safeguard children’s teeth as they grow, paving the way better dental health into adolescence and adulthood.

What Do Your Teeth Say About You?

Your teeth are one of your most distinctive features, so it’s important to properly care for them. To learn more about your dental hygiene and how to protect your oral health, contact Cindy Flanagan, D.D.S.

Original Source: https://flanagansmiles.com/dental-technology/teeth-tell-us-columbus/

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