How eating has changed the shape of the human jaw

Bee Wilson, a food columnist for the Telegraph in the UK, has written a book called ‘Consider The Fork:  a history of how we cook and eat‘.  Writing about it in her column, she provided a tidbit of information of which I hadn’t been previously aware.

The most startling thing I discovered while writing the book was the way that our bodies may have been changed by cutlery. The alignment of our jaws and teeth is probably a product of how we cut up our food during our youth. The normal arrangement of human teeth, as any orthodontist will say, is an overbite: our top layer of incisors hang over the bottom layer. What the orthodontist doesn’t tell you is that our jaws have only been like this for about 250 years. Before that surviving skeletons display an edge-to-edge bite, like apes.

In the 1960s C. Loring Brace, an American anthropologist, became obsessed by the overbite and why it had emerged so recently. The only way he could account for it was the adoption of the knife and fork. Before the fork we would have clamped chewy food between our incisors, wearing teeth down. Once we started cutting our food into morsels – from childhood onwards – our incisors kept growing (dentists would say ‘erupting’) into an overbite. The clincher, for Brace, was the discovery that this change in teeth happened around 900 years earlier in China than in Europe. The reason? Chopsticks!

So yes, cutlery does matter. It’s just not all about manners.

There’s more at the link.

How fascinating to think that the invention of a particular eating utensil actually changed the shape of our jaws and faces!  Does this mean that if future generations discard the fork and chopsticks, they’ll lose their overbite as well?



  1. It is primarily the food:

    Cultery might make a very distant contribution to our current problems, but we need the right nutrients to make proper jaws in the first place, and we generally don't get those nutrients with the modern aversion to saturated fat and modern processed foods.

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