Dental News, Dental Research

Patients fretting about that dental procedure? Tell them about the Ice Age dentist who used stone tools and tar.

May 03, 2017

In a few previous posts, we explored the evidence of oral care in pre-modern societies. Thanks to fossil markings that show toothpick activity, scientists have demonstrated that dental care goes way back. Last year, researchers even dug up the oldest pair of dentures ever found, at an Italian burial site.

But the most astonishing recent discovery comes from an Ice Age dig site in Italy. According to a Live Science article, the skeletal remains of a person who lived about 13,000 years ago include what may be the oldest example of dental fillings.

The subject’s upper central incisors both have gaping holes with horizontal striations that reach down to the tooth’s pulp chamber. Experts concluded that the scratch marks were likely a result of some hand-held tool that twisted through the dentine in order to extract the infected pulp inside. A study published by the American Journal of Physical Anthropology speculates that this procedure was likely undertaken to relieve significant pain caused by an infected cavity.

Even more astounding: the researchers found traces of bitumen, a tar-like substance, within the enlarged cavities. Following the extraction of the dental pulp, our ancient dentist must have used the bitumen to prevent further infection, much like a modern-day dentist would use a filling.

All of this evidence of ancient dental treatment further reinforces the importance of oral health. Fortunately, our modern-day dentists no longer have to rely on stone tools and tar.