Hunting the Black Death in White Teeth

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LondonOldandNewBack in the Middle Ages, a terrible disease called the Black Death ravaged Europe. Knights and peasants alike fell to this killer. The horror was so widespread that it forever changed society.

Today, scientists are trying to understand the Black Death. They want to know what made it so very deadly. A clue might be found in the teeth of some of its victims.

While digging for a new London railway line, workers unearthed a medieval burial site that would have been outside the city’s walls. Suspecting that these might be plague victims, scientists immediately went to work investigating the teeth.

The scientists announced just this past Sunday that they found evidence of the bacteria that caused the Black Death in the twelve teeth they took from the skeletons. By studying the DNA of these bacteria, the scientists hope to learn how the Black Death was different from modern diseases.

Teeth tell scientists a lot more than that about the people they came from. The health (or lack thereof) reveal how people lived and what they ate. Teeth reveal how people were raised as children. They can show us what sorts of work they did. They can even tell scientists how long and healthy a person’s life was.

As your pediatric dentist can tell you, healthy teeth are a cornerstone of a healthy body. Problems with your teeth will lead to problems elsewhere. This is why daily brushing and flossing is so important, even beyond having a pretty smile.

The skeletons under London and their teeth still have a lot to tell us about life in the Middle Ages and the disease that killed them. They might even tell us how to prevent future pandemics. Wouldn’t that be something to smile about?

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