Analysis of dental fossils of the primate species Microsyops latidens, dating to about 54 million years ago, show the first evidence of dental caries in mammals.
The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports and shows cavities, probably caused by a diet generous in fruits or other foods high in sugar.
The remains of this species have been studied for several years. Before, small holes had been detected in the teeth, which were thought to be due to physical damage that occurred before the disappearance of the mammal.
“These fossils have been around for 54 million years and a lot can happen in that time,” explains Keegan Selig, lead author of the study.
“I think most people assumed that these holes were some kind of damage that occurred over time, but they always occurred in the same part of the tooth and they consistently had this smooth, rounded curve.”
The researchers conducted a new analysis of the teeth of 1,000 individuals from M. latidens, using micro-CT scanners that allowed him to look inside the teeth.
In doing so, the team of scientists confirmed the existence of cavities in 77 of them, which is the largest and earliest known sample of dental caries in an extinct mammal.
One of the main conclusions that this animal came to depend more on fruits and other foods rich in sugar that provided it with large amounts of energy.
“Eating fruit is considered one of the hallmarks of what makes primitive primates unique,” the authors note.
“If you are a small primate that runs through the trees, you would want to eat food with a high energy value. They also probably weren’t worried about having cavities. “