Why the Pharaohs didn’t smile

Why any of the Pharaoh statues didn’t smile? Judith Miller (dentist) tried to find the answer to this question. Let’s look at the results of her research, which was carried out on the mummy of the 18th dynasty Pharaoh Amenhotep III. So what was behind the fact that none of the Pharaoh didn’t smile?

Amenhotep III was undoubtedly one of the most significant Pharaoh of the ancient Egypt. The reign of this 18th dynasty ruler was called "Egyptian Golden Age". The Egyptian empire was powerful and fabulously rich – except Egypt it concerned Nubia, Palestine, Lebanon and part of Syria. Amenhotep III further extended its territory, not militarily, but with dynastic marriages with daughters of the neighbouring rulers.

So-called „beautiful style“ was on its top in architecture, sculpture and painting under Amenhotep III rule. He let build or rebuild many temples (among others the famous temple in Luxor). A pair of gigantic statues preserved from another temple to the west of Luxor, which depicts sitting Amenhotep III – it is known as Colossi of Memnon. Each of these statues is made of quartzite monolith (the statues are about 20 meters high).

What revealed the X-rays

Amenhotep III wanted to come indelibly into history of ancient Egypt and was successful not only because of art and entire empire’s bloom, but he also became well-known for one of the worst set of teeth of all Pharaohs.

The X-ray of Amenhotep III mummy revealed that his set of teeth was in absolutely decrepit condition and experts believe that life must have been suffering for the Pharaoh. He must have borne acute teeth ache, gum inflammations, abscesses, and periosteum and bones inflammations for many years. Judith Miller stays behind this discovery, who was mentioned before.

Many people suffered from teeth ache and inflammations and number of them died because of inflammations after-effect or subsequent poisoning. Miller examined a couple of hundreds of sculls, especially the jaws, of all age groups and all ancient Egypt periods (except Intermediate periods).

Development of dental problems

Egyptian history period Percentage of population suffering from dental caries
Period before dynasties 16%
New Kingdom period 25%
Ptolemy and Roman domination period 34%

Missing teeth was the smallest problem. Egyptians’ teeth were often abraded up to the roots, sometimes without enamel and were riddled with caries. Infections then formed abscesses and jaw bones were harmed. A chronic inflammation sometimes caused a poisoning and the death afterwards.

What is interesting the caries gradually changed their location. At first they mostly affected dental necks right at the gums (it especially concerns adults). Then Judith Miller discovered caries on dental crows from later period (around 500 BC) and the caries were to the same degree by both adults and children. Also cases of periodontitis occurred, mostly in New Kingdom period (especially the period of Amenhotep III) and it is supposed that 43% of population suffered from periodontitis.

The constitution of food was the problem

What led to such a critical state of Egyptians’ teeth? The eating habits are known – archaeologists found big amount of food in most of graves, which were given to the deceased not to suffer from hunger in the afterlife. According to these findings, the Egyptians ate healthily – shellfish, fish, venison, and beef.

In the period before dynasties, people ate a diet rich in proteins, which they gain mainly by hunting and collecting fruit. Agriculture began to develop along the Nile River around 4,000 BC and the diet contains more carbohydrates (saccharides). People began with pastoral farming in the period of first Pharaohs around 3,100 BC and it meant more meat (proteins) in their diet.

We also can’t omit the fact that the life of ancient Egyptians was greatly influenced by Nile. Floods were followed by droughts often connected with famine, which had effect on the quality of bones and teeth. The Egyptians had varied diet under normal circumstances. They grew barley and wheat and made bread and beer of these ingredients. They ate a great deal of legumes, vegetables and fruits and the Nile was a great source of fish. They bred ducks and geese, drank milk and probably also made cheese.

Treacherous bread

So the question is: how is it possible that with so varied diet had Egyptians (even the Pharaohs, who certainly didn’t live in need) teeth in so bad condition? The main reason probably was bread, which was staple food and they made about 40 kinds of it. Basic ingredients for its production was emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum), a type of wheat with very small grains. Analyses of preserved loaves shows, that bread was full of chaff and dust from the stone mill stones and sand, that got into the bread during baking in outside ovens. The result was bread, which quickly abraded enamel.

This bread not only had abrasive effects, but also was very sticky. Egyptians probably didn’t brush their teeth at that time (at least there is no evidence about it), so the sticky bread remained on the roots of the teeth long after eating. A pressure generated, the gums decreased and caries occurred on the necks of the teeth.

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The eating habits changed in Egypt, when the Greeks came in 4th century BC. Coarse bread of emmer wheat was replaced by bread of so-called „durum flour“ (Triticum durum), which is known as semolina nowadays and for example pasta of the highest quality is made of it. These products contain higher ratio of gluten and lower ratio of farina to emmer wheat (today as well as in ancient time).

Sweets – problem since ancient times

Egyptians as well as contemporary Arabs loved sweets, what was another reason of caries formation. Egyptians loved honey, which was food of Pharaohs up to Ptolemy period and a sacrifice for Gods. The situation changed under Ptolemaic dynasty rule – food consumption rapidly increased and so did the consumption of sweets. Honey was available for all and figs and date were very popular. The number of caries also increased in proportion to this fact.

Why the dentists didn’t exist

The unanswered question is why the dentists didn’t exist in such an advanced civilization, where medicine was at relatively high level. Extracting the rotten tooth would be enough to prevent the complications in many cases. According to Judith Miller some teeth must have been so loose because of periodontitis that they could have been extracted only by hand.

Amenhotep III died without all front teeth, but a man (especially a Pharaoh) should have passed away with all body parts. But it apparently didn’t concern the teeth. They weren’t absolutely necessary from the religious point of view, because limbs or fingers were substituted by prostheses.

Amenhotep III wasn’t an exception in his time. The greatest Pharaoh of the New Kingdom Ramesses II also had teeth in very bad condition. His teeth were abraded up to the roots and he obviously suffered from strong periodontitis, jaw bone inflammation and had many abscesses in lower jaw. No wonder that the statues of the rulers don’t smile.

Source: Lidové noviny

Message from the Nile

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