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Oldest Evidence Of Dentistry Found in 14,000-Year-Old Tooth

While you might be complaining about visits to the dentist, know that you are so much better off than people with cavities living 14,000 years ago when “dentists” of that time would use sharpened stone tools to remove infected teeth. The findings have been published in the journal Scientific Reports.


Evidence of oldest known form of dentistry. Photo credits: Stefano Benazzi.

Going to the dentist is one of the most frightening life experiences for many of us. A new study entailing the discovery of an infected 14,000-year-old tooth has shown that people living hundreds of thousands of years ago also had to put up with the troubles of cavities and find ways to deal with the problem. The ‘ancient tooth’ bears indications of the oldest documented form of dentistry.

The tooth is a molar taken from a well-preserved 25-year-old male skeleton. The latter’s remains were spotted in a rock shelter in Belluno, Italy, decades ago, in 1988. Upon analysing it, researchers found that it was infected. Furthermore, they observed signs of treatment having been done by sharp, flint tools.

Now, brace yourself for the gruesome details. Anaesthesia is a relatively modern luxury – a luxury it is when you hear of the ancient methods. Our ancestors would use sharpened stone tools to remove teeth with cavities.

“The treatment went unnoticed for all these years. The cavity was described as a simple carious lesion,” lead researcher Stefano Benazzi from the University of Bologna said in a statement to Discovery News.

Examining the tooth with a scanning electron microscope revealed chippings and striations which were interpreted to be the result of intentional removal of the infected tissue using a small and sharp tool.

The researchers replicated the procedure using different materials such as wood and bone. They eventually confirmed that the tooth was subject to scratching and chipping. They also added that the painful treatment happened when the individual was still alive.

“The discovery suggests, moreover, that in the Upper Palaeolithic era, humans were aware of the damaging effects of cavity infections and of the necessity of treating them, using stone instruments to remove the infected material and to clean out the cavity,” Benazzi told an Italian newspaper, Il Resto del Carlino, as reported by The Telegraph.


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