Earliest example of dental fillings found In Italy

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Archaeologists have discovered a pair of ancient teeth in northern Italy that show evidence of primitive dental work, each containing an unusual hole that extends down to the pulp chamber.

Earliest example of dental fillings found In Italy
A scan of the two teeth with bitumen filling [Credit: Stefano Benazz/New Scientist]

In what likely would have been a very painful procedure, researchers say the Ice Age ‘dentist’ used a sharp stone to remove diseased cavity tissue, and then filled the holes with the tar-like substance bitumen.

The teeth were discovered at the Riparo Fredian site in Italy, and are thought to date back to the Upper Paleolithic, between 13,000 and 12,740 years ago.

While a previously discovered set of teeth indicated that dental practices occurred as far back as 14,000 years ago, the researchers say the new find marks the earliest example of the use of a filling, according to a study published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

In a microscopic analysis of the Ice Age teeth, which came from the same person, the researchers found scratches and other marks on the inner walls that would have come from something other than chewing.

Each of the teeth has a large, deep hole, indicating they had been ‘drilled’ into with a sharp object.

And, the researchers found evidence that they had once been filled with bitumen, a tar-like binding substance.

Earliest example of dental fillings found In Italy
Humans developed therapeutic dental practices thousands of years before foods such as cereals 
and honey entered our diet [Credit: Gregorio Oxilia/New Scientist]

Along with this, they found bits of straw and what could be hair.

While it’s not yet clear what purpose these substances served, it’s thought that they may have been used as an antiseptic or to reduce pain.

Holes of this kind may also have been drilled for ornamental purposes, the researchers say, allowing for the insertion of jewelry.

But, the discovery of bitumen suggests the procedure was done out of medical necessity to remove decayed matter from the teeth and prevent further loss.

According to the researchers, this ancient patient lived before the widespread introduction of agriculture, when increased intake of high-carb, grain-based foods led to a rise in dental problems.

While the sample size is small, with just two teeth from the same person, the researchers say the find suggests dental care – including drilling and filling teeth – was widespread in the Ice Age.

The discovery ‘confirms the practice of dentistry – specifically, a pathology-induced intervention – among Late Pleistocene hunter gatherers,’ the authors wrote.

‘As such, it appears that fundamental perceptions of biomedical knowledge and practice were in place long before the socioeconomic changes associated with the transition to food production in the Neolithic.’

Author: Cheyenne Macdonald | Source: DailyMail [April 11, 2017]

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