Scans of Oetzi’s skull show severe dental abrasion, which led to a loss of more than half of the crowns in the front.

New research on the remains of ‘Oetzi’, the world’s oldest wet mummy, has revealed that his violent death was not the only misfortune suffered by the Iceman – he also had terrible teeth.

According to a study led by researchers from the University of Zurich’s Centre for Evolutionary Medicine, Oetzi’s gritty diet had wreaked havoc with his dental health, causing severe wear.

One of his front teeth was discoloured, hinting at an injury sustained in life, while a molar had lost its cusp, probably from chewing on something hard (perhaps a small stone) in his food.

‘Oetzi displays an astoundingly large number of oral diseases, and dentition problems that are still common today,’ said project leader Professor Frank Rühli.

Arrow pointing right: deep carious lesions. Arrow pointing left: severe bone loss around the molars.

Since his discovery in 1991, detailed research has been carried out on Oetzi’s 5,000-year-old remains, but this is the first time his oral health has been closely examined. Previous analysis of his intestines has shed light on his diet, which included large amounts of bread and cereal porridge – products of the development of agriculture during the Neolithic period in which Oetzi lived.

These starchy meals were bad for his teeth, however – something attested by signs of severe periodontis (gum disease) in Oetzi’s mouth. His rear molars were particularly badly affected, with supportive tissue receding almost to the tip of the root.

Top view of the upper jaw (3D reconstruction), showing severe dental abrasion and the lost cusp (circled)

‘The loss of peridontium has always been a very common disease, as the discovery of Stone Age skulls and the examination of Egyptian mummies has shown,’ said Centre for Evolutionary Medicine dentist Roger Seiler, who has been investigating Oetzi’s teeth using computer tomography. ‘Oetzi allows us an especially good insight into such an early stage of this disease.’


All images: University of Zurich