A Mummy’s Mouth Tells the Story of a Man’s Painful Death

A Mummy’s Mouth Tells the Story of a Man’s Painful Death

the science of smiles pasadena ca stenderIt’s an image that fascinates and horrifies dental health professionals; a mummy’s mouth full cavities and tooth ailments. But it’s not the cavities alone that are shocking, it’s the state of the mouth in general and an unusual looking dental filling.

After reviewing the mouth of this wealthy man from Egypt who lived more than 2,100 years ago, scientists believe he didn’t die from age…. but rather a sinus infection caused by his cavities and other dental problems. CT scans of his mummified body allowed researchers to reconstruct details of his final days.

The man, whose name is unknown, was in his 20s or early 30s, and his teeth were in horrible shape. He had “numerous” abscesses and cavities, conditions that appear to have resulted, at some point, in a sinus infection, something potentially deadly, the study researchers said. The pain the young man suffered would have been beyond words and drove him to see a dental specialist.

By today’s standards, any dentist would have a hard time dealing with the young man’s severe condition — so one can imagine that an ancient dentist must have felt overwhelmed. Even modern day infections, like abscesses and periodontal diseases, associated with the teeth pose a “serious health risk.”

As for the unusual looking cavity, an ancient dental professional obviously tried something to relieve his suffering. Using a piece of linen, perhaps dipped in a medicine such as fig juice or cedar oil, the expert created a form of “packing” in the young man’s biggest and perhaps most painful cavity, located on the left side of his jaw between the first and second molars.

The packing acted as a barrier to prevent food particles from getting into the cavity, with any medicine on the linen helping to ease the pain, the study researchers said. Sadly, while this likely helped the young man’s pain, he would succumb shortly after, perhaps in just a matter of weeks. Researchers can’t say for sure the cause of death, but the sinus infection is a good possibility.

Dental technology has sure come a long way in the last thousand years — and for that, we are all thankful.

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