For National Dental Hygiene Month in October we asked the kind of question a skeptical child might ask a parent: why even bother brushing if pre-historic humans never did? The answer, of course, is that brushing is good for your health. Not to mention the fact that we live much longer than we once did, and that our diets have changed dramatically.
But the question itself may be problematic. As it turns out, our distant ancestors did practice dental hygiene. According to a team at the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES), Neanderthals used toothpicks to remove debris from between their teeth.
The institute’s study observed fossil teeth with evidence of toothpick marks. Even more telling, the fossils showed periodontal disease, suggesting that the toothpicks were used to relieve the associated inflammation.
The pain caused by gum disease could only be treated with a toothpick-like tool in the absence of any modern device. Neanderthals simply used whatever they could find, such as rigid stalks of grass or thin sticks. The same has been observed in skeletal remains of pre-historic man. There have been findings of fillings and ancient procedures even used by dentists from the Ice Age.
So, next time a fussy child refuses to brush and uses history as an excuse not to, there’s one more logical argument at your disposal to get them to the bathroom sink. Turns out dental care goes way back.