Analysis of the teeth of Richard III has shed new light on the life and death of the last English monarch to die in battle, according to an article published in the latest issue of the British Dental Journal (BDJ).
The discovery last year of human remains under a council car park in Leicester, and their subsequent identification as Richard’s through DNA taken from several back teeth, has thrust a spotlight on medieval dentistry and the oral health of the historically unpopular king who died at the battle of Bosworth in 1485.
The author of the article, Richard III – the final act, suggests the king, who reigned for just two turbulent years, had generally poor oral health and may have suffered stress-related bruxism (teeth grinding) as there is evidence of tooth surface loss on a number of back teeth and upper right central incisor (front tooth).
Analysis of Richard’s skull and jaw show violent trauma injuries received at the time of death, including the possible loss of his upper left front tooth.
Several other of his back teeth are also missing, most likely due to decay resulting from a regal diet rich in carbohydrates and sugars which the majority of people would not have had access to. This meant dental decay was a disease of the most affluent, the opposite of the current situation.
There is evidence of the gaps left by these teeth having closed, which points to the possibility that Richard may have had them extracted early and by the skilled hands of barber surgeons, the dental practitioners of the day who had been granted a royal charter in 1462.
Mineralised deposits were also found, including on the front and side surfaces of the teeth on Richard’s upper jaw, which suggests a build-up of tartar over time, but there were less deposits on the upper right front tooth than on the adjacent teeth, which suggests some understanding and application of dental hygiene.
Dr Amit Rai, General Dental Practitioner, Expert Witness and author of the article, said:
“Analysis of this tartar will enable the identification of the strains and diversity of bacteria which once inhabited Richard’s mouth and provide a better insight into his diet and oral hygiene habits.”
Dental and oral hygiene received its first taste of strategic guidance in the first half of the 15th century, when Giovanni de Arcoli, professor of medicine and surgery at Bologna extolled the virtues of preserving teeth by cleaning them twice a day and avoiding sweet foods. He also pioneered the use of gold leaf as a restorative treatment to fill cavities.
Professor Damien Walmsley, Scientific Adviser to the British Dental Association, said:
“It is amazing that the dental health message today is much the same as that in Richard III’s lifetime, the only difference is we have access to fluoride toothpaste and professional dentistry, so unlike Richard, we have no excuse for poor oral health.”