Swedish study reveals Vikings’ sophisticated dental practices

Published 16 December 2023
- By Editorial Staff
Viking teeth are clinically examined by Carolina Bertilsson. X-ray examination of teeth with equipment used in dentistry.

Vikings often had problems with their teeth, according to a new Swedish study. It also shows that Viking dentistry was much more advanced than previously thought.

A study from the University of Gothenburg, together with an osteologist from the Västergötland Museum, examined 3,293 teeth from 171 individuals from the Viking Age population of Varnhem in Västergötland. Using both traditional dental instruments and X-ray technology similar to that used in modern dentistry, new insights were gained into the dental health of the Vikings.

The results, published in the journal PLOS ONE, show that 49% of the Viking population had one or more caries lesions. Among adults, 13% had cavities, many of them in the roots. However, children who had their baby teeth, or both baby and adult teeth, had no cavities at all.

The researchers found that adults lost an average of 6% of their teeth, excluding wisdom teeth. At the same time, there were clear signs that the Vikings had methods for dealing with dental problems.

– There were several signs that the Vikings had modified their teeth, including traces of the use of toothpicks, grinding of front teeth and even dental treatment of teeth with infections, said Carolina Bertilsson, dentist and research assistant, as well as the study’s first name and corresponding author, in a press release.

Among other things, the study showed that procedures were performed and holes were made in the molars, from the crown of the tooth down into the pulp. This was likely done to relieve pressure and reduce toothache. The procedure is similar to what is done today when infected teeth are drilled. The grinding of the front teeth may also have had some kind of identity marking function.

– The study provides new insights into Viking oral health and shows that teeth were important in the Viking culture of Varnhem. It also provides an understanding that Viking dentistry was probably more sophisticated than previously thought, she says.

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