Dental Caries in Rome, 50-100 AD
Scarce information exists on the clinical features of dental caries in the Imperial Roman population and no structural data on caries lesions from this period have so far been published. We report on the findings of 86 teeth (50–100 AD) found during archaeological excavations of the temple of Castor and Pollux in the Forum Romanum. We found that nearly all teeth had large carious cavities extending into the pulp. The distribution and size of the caries lesions were similar to those found in contemporary adult populations in Africa and China living without access to dental care. Most lesions had a hypermineralized zone in the dentin at the advancing front of the carious cavities as revealed by micro-computed tomography. This biological dentin reaction combined with the morphology of the cavities might indicate that some temporary topical pain relief and intervention treatment slowed down the rate of lesion progression. This is indirectly supported by examination of cavities of similar size and depth from a contemporary population without access to dental health care. In contrast to the lesions in the Roman teeth, these lesions did not exhibit a hypermineralized dentin reaction. We investigated whether the Pb isotopic composition of enamel and/or dentin of a single tooth matched that of a sample of an ancient Forum water lead pipe. The Pb isotopic composition of the tooth did not match that of the tube, suggesting that the subjects were exposed to different Pb sources during their lifetime other than the lead tubes.