A 17th-century aristocrat had a clever secret to keeping her teeth: ScienceAlert

Scientists have discovered the long-buried secret of a 17th-century French aristocrat 400 years after her death: She used gold floss to prevent her teeth from falling out.

The body of Anne d’Alegre, who died in 1619, was discovered during an archaeological dig at Chateau de Laval in northwestern France in 1988.

Embalmed in a lead coffin, her skeleton – and teeth – were remarkably well preserved.

Back then, the archaeologists noticed she had a denture, but they didn’t have advanced scanning tools to find out more.

Thirty-five years later, a team of archaeologists and dentists has identified that d’Alegre suffered from periodontal disease that loosened her teeth, according to a study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports this week.

A “Cone Beam” scan, which uses X-rays to build three-dimensional images, showed that gold wire had been used to hold together and tighten several of her teeth.

She also had an artificial tooth made from elephant ivory – not hippopotamus, which was popular at the time.

But this ornate dental work “only made the situation worse,” said Rozenn Colleter, an archaeologist at the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research and lead author of the study.

A close-up on photo (A) and on x-ray (B) of the skull of Anne d’Alegre, an aristocrat from the 17th century. (INRAP/AFP)

The gold wires would have needed repeated tightening over the years, further destabilizing neighboring teeth, the researchers said.

D’Alegre probably went through the pain for more than just medical reasons. There was enormous pressure on aristocratic women at a time when appearance was seen as linked to value and rank in society.

Ambroise Pare, a contemporary of D’Alegres who was physician to several French kings and designed similar dental prostheses, claimed that “if a patient is toothless, his speech is depraved,” Colleter told AFP.

A pretty smile was especially important to d’Alegre, a “controversial” twice-widowed socialist “who didn’t have a good reputation,” Colleter added.

War and widowhood

D’Alegre lived through a troubled time in French history.

She was a Huguenot, Protestant who fought against Catholics in the French Wars of Religion at the end of the 16th century.

At the age of 21, she was already a widow once and had a young son, Guy XX de Laval.

As the country plunged into the Eighth War of Religion, D’Alegre and her son were forced to hide from Catholic forces while their property was seized by the king.

Her son then converted to Catholicism and went to fight in Hungary, dying in battle at the age of 20.

After being widowed for the second time, D’Alegre died of an illness at the age of 54.

D’Alegre’s teeth “show she went through a lot of stress,” Colleter said.

The researcher said she hopes the research “goes some way towards rehabilitating her”.

Severe periodontal diseases are estimated to affect almost a fifth of the world’s adults, according to the World Health Organization.

© Agence France-Presse

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