Golden secret found in mouth of ‘controversial’ socialite who died in 1619

Scientists have uncovered the long-buried secret of a 17th-century French aristocrat, 400 years after her death: she used gold thread to keep her teeth from falling out.

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

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

At the time, archaeologists noticed that 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 identified that d’Alegre suffered from periodontal disease that loosened his teeth, according to a study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports this week.

“Beyond the sole therapeutic care and far from mere coquetry, this study also shows the importance of appearance for aristocratic women subjected to strong social constraints (such as stress or widowhood)”, write the authors of the study.

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

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

The scientists said their paper “provides the first demonstration of a link between diagnosis and therapy on an identified individual using new digital technologies used in modern dentistry.”

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

The gold wires would have needed repeated tightening over the years, further destabilizing nearby 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 tied to value and rank in society.

Ambroise Paré, a contemporary of d’Alegre who served as physician to several French kings and designed similar dental prostheses, claimed that “if a patient is toothless, his speech becomes depraved,” Colleter told AFP .

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

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

She was a Huguenot, Protestant who fought against Catholics in the French Wars of Religion in the late 1500s.

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

When the country plunged into the Eighth Religious War, d’Alegre and his son were forced into hiding from Catholic forces while their property was seized by the king.

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

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

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

The researcher said she hoped the research would “contribute a bit to her rehabilitation.”

Serious periodontal disease is estimated to affect nearly one-fifth of adults worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

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