Even the primates Microsyops latidens, who lived 54 million years ago, suffered from caries. Scientists found traces of it on the teeth of more than a thousand examined individuals. An article describing the study was published by Scientific Reports.
It was believed that before the transition to a sedentary lifestyle, the emergence of agriculture and food with a high carbohydrate content, our ancestors did not suffer from caries. In recent years, these ideas have been challenged when paleontologists have found traces of caries in the teeth of Neanderthals and some modern and ancient animals.
A study by University of Toronto professor Mary Silcox and her colleagues shows that even primates of the species Microsyops latidens, which lived about 54 million years ago, suffered from tooth decay. They lived in forests in what is now Wyoming, were about the size of a squirrel, and ate mostly fruits.
Over the past few years, paleontologists have discovered hundreds of teeth from these primates. In total, Silcox and her colleagues have collected and studied the teeth of more than a thousand individuals. At the same time, experts took into account where and how the teeth were located and what damage was on their surface. Thanks to this, paleontologists distinguished real carious cavities from other injuries not associated with the vital activity of the oral microflora.
As it turned out, 77 studied individuals suffered from caries (7.5%). That is, tooth decay was quite common among the first primates of the Earth, whose diet was high in carbohydrates. In this respect, they are comparable to tamarins and capuchins, which feed mainly on fruits, and surpass almost all other modern mammals.
All this, according to Silcox and her colleagues, says that tooth decay is indeed associated with diet, but at the same time it affects wild animals, including other primates, not as rarely as scientists believed. The study of the fossil teeth of other ancient representatives of our order and family, scientists hope, will make it possible to understand whether caries was characteristic of other human ancestors who ate less sweet foods.