A professor of dentistry and his colleagues have published a theory that seeks to explain why Inuit who encountered members of the doomed Franklin Expedition in the 19th century noticed the men had hard, dry and black mouths.
Russell Taichman at the University of Michigan says several explorers who interviewed Inuit who encountered the British sailors after they had abandoned their icebound ships noticed strange dental symptoms.
Taichman, who is from Toronto and has long been fascinated with Sir John Franklin’s failed mission to locate the Northwest Passage, said the symptoms didn’t seem to fit other theories about what befell the crew, such as scurvy, lead poisoning or spoilage in the tinned food they carried.
So, he and a librarian at the university, Mark MacEachern, began combing through medical literature to figure it out.
“What kept coming up several times was tuberculosis,” said Taichman in an interview from Ann Arbor, Mich.
“It was pretty common in British sailors at the time, living in close quarters.”
Taichman, who typically examines how tumours spread to bone marrow, said he discussed the finding with an oncologist and hematologist Frank Cackowski, who explained that tuberculosis can cause adrenal deficiency, or Addison’s disease.
Addison’s can produce the symptoms that were observed by the Inuit, Taichman said, although he noted it rarely progresses to that point in modern times.
He said that long term, it can be fatal.
The theory was published earlier this year in the journal Arctic.
Franklin left England in 1845 with 129 men to search for a northern sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. No one from the two ships ever returned, and search missions determined that both ships became icebound and were abandoned.
Remains of some of the sailors have been found. The ships weren’t located until 2014 and 2016.
Taichman said the descriptions of the Inuit are particularly valuable because he believes they would have noticed and remembered…