Viking dentistry was surprisingly advanced

Viking Age teeth from Varnhem bear witness to surprisingly advanced dentistry. This has been shown in a study carried out at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. The study examined 3,293 teeth from 171 individuals among the Viking Age population of Varnhem in Västergötland, Sweden.

The site is known for extensive excavations of Viking and medieval environments, including tombs where skeletons and teeth have been preserved well in favorable soil conditions.

The research team from the University of Gothenburg’s Institute of Odontology worked with an osteologist from Västergötland’s Museum.

The teeth underwent clinical examinations using standard dentistry tools under bright light.

A number of X-ray examinations were also performed. The results, which have been published in PLOS ONE, show that 49% of the Viking population had one or more caries lesions. However, children with milk teeth – or with both milk and adult teeth – were entirely caries-free.

Tooth loss was also common among adults. The studied adults had lost an average of 6% of their teeth, excluding wisdom teeth, over their lifetimes. The findings suggest that caries, tooth infections, and toothache were common among the Viking population in Varnhem.

However, the study also reveals examples of attempts to look after teeth in various ways.

Carolina Bertilsson, a dentist and Associate Researcher, and the study’s corresponding author, said: “There were several signs that the Vikings had modified their teeth, including evidence of using toothpicks, filing front teeth, and even dental treatment of teeth with infections”.

One sign of more sophisticated procedures was molars with filed holes, from the crown of the tooth and into the pulp, probably in order to relieve pressure and alleviate severe toothache due to infection.

Carolina continues: “This study provides new insights into Viking oral health, and indicates that teeth were important in Varnhem’s Viking culture. It also suggests that dentistry in the Viking Age was probably more sophisticated than previously thought”.