Ancient tooth may provide evidence of early human dentistry

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Researchers may have uncovered new evidence of ancient dentistry in the form of a 6,500-year-old human jaw bone with a tooth showing traces of beeswax filling, as reported Sept. 19 in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

Beeswax placed on top of this cracked tooth may be the earliest example of therapeutic dentistry [Credit: PLoS One]

Beeswax placed on top of this cracked tooth may be the earliest example of therapeutic dentistry [Credit: PLoS One]
Beeswax placed on top of this cracked tooth may be the earliest example of therapeutic dentistry [Credit: PLoS One]

The researchers, led by Federico Bernardini and Claudio Tuniz of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Italy in cooperation with Sincrotrone Trieste and other institutions, write that the beeswax was applied around the time of the individual’s death, but cannot confirm whether it was shortly before or after. If it was before death, however, they write that it was likely intended to reduce pain and sensitivity from a vertical crack in the enamel and dentin layers of the tooth.

According to Tuniz, the severe wear of the tooth “is probably also due to its use in non-alimentary activities, possibly such as weaving, generally performed by Neolithic females.”

The Lonche jaw from a karstic cave of southern Slovenia, which researchers were stunned to find contained a beeswax filling [Credit: PLoS One]
The
Lonche jaw from a karstic cave of southern Slovenia, which researchers
were stunned to find contained a beeswax filling [Credit: PLoS One]

Evidence of prehistoric dentistry is sparse, so this new specimen, found in Slovenia near Trieste, may help provide insight into early dental practices.

“This finding is perhaps the most ancient evidence of pre-historic dentistry in Europe and the earliest known direct example of therapeutic-palliative dental filling so far,” says Bernardini.

Source: Public Library of Science [September 19, 2012]

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