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Unraveling Viking Oral Health

Vikings, often depicted as fierce warriors conquering new lands, were more than just marauders. Recent research reveals that these ancient seafaring conquerors took time to care for their oral health, using toothpicks and engaging in dental practices that may surprise you. A study published in the journal Plos One sheds light on the dental habits of a specific community of Swedish Vikings, uncovering a complex picture of dental care, infections, and even dental modifications.


The Dental Landscape of Viking Age

The study, conducted by University of Gothenburg researcher Carolina Bertilsson and her team, focused on the remains of Vikings buried near Varnhem Abbey in Sweden, dating back 800 to 1,000 years ago. The findings, derived from the analysis of 3,293 teeth from 171 individuals, provide a glimpse into the oral health and habits of these ancient Scandinavians.


Dental Decay and Care

The researchers discovered a dental landscape common to medieval Europe, marked by frequent tooth decay, infections, and tooth loss. A staggering 49% of the Viking population studied had one or more cavities, primarily attributed to a diet rich in starchy foods and a lack of dental care. Adults lost an average of 6% of their teeth over their lifetimes, excluding wisdom teeth.


Toothpick Use and Other Practices

While the Vikings faced dental challenges, the study revealed signs of dental care efforts. Toothpicks, evidenced by abrasions near the tooth roots, were among the tools Vikings used to maintain their teeth. The researchers also found molars with drilled holes, possibly created to alleviate the excruciating toothaches caused by infections.


Dental Modifications and Social Significance

In addition to tooth decay and care practices, the study unveiled intriguing dental modifications among the Vikings. Some individuals displayed deliberately carved grooves on their upper front teeth, a practice mainly observed in Viking men. The purpose of these carvings remains uncertain, with possibilities ranging from decorative modifications to symbols of social standing.


Complex Dental Interventions

Beyond tooth decay and modifications, the study uncovered instances of dental interventions that go beyond the typical expectations of ancient dentistry. The researchers identified filed front teeth, suggesting potential identity markers. Moreover, Viking individuals displayed signs of complex dental treatments, such as the opening and widening of pulpal chambers, indicating efforts to relieve pain associated with dental issues.


Life in the Viking Age was undoubtedly challenging, and dental health was no exception. The study highlights cases of severe infections, potentially life-threatening, and the everyday impact of dental issues on Viking life. Tooth loss, pain, and the use of toothpicks were integral aspects of their oral health experience.

This research into the oral health of Swedish Vikings near Varnhem Abbey provides a unique and detailed glimpse into the lives of these ancient warriors. From toothpick use to dental modifications and complex interventions, the study challenges preconceived notions about Viking dental care. As we unravel the mysteries of our ancestors, these findings remind us that even fierce warriors took time to care for their teeth in the midst of conquests and celebrations.


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By The Lake Dental is a full service – ‘one-stop shop’ - dental experience, where you and your family will have your dream smile come true. Whatever your dental needs are, we will deliver the right treatment plan for you. For us every smile does matter and our dental team is able to take care of and transform every single one of them.




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