Although nobody one likes going to the dentist, the next time you’re sitting in the chair, you might want to think about how far modern medical tools have come. Recent discoveries show that our dental techniques today are jarringly similar to the rudimentary techniques from 14,000 years ago — only the operations used to be done with tools made out of chipped rocks.
New research shows that primitive dentists removed cavities from teeth to avoid infection. Stefano Benazzi, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Bologna, led a team of researchers to study a skeleton dated to around 14,160 years old that had been discovered in Northern Italy. Analyzing the markings on a tooth of the skeleton, the team used different materials to try to replicate the grooves, eventually finding that sharpened flint reproduced the results exactly.
This discovery also led the researchers to link the use of the Palaeolithic toothpick, made of bone and wood, with tooth decay.
“What the results show is that the tooth represents the oldest evidence of intervention on a cavity,” says Benazzi. “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.”
Other primitive dental techniques include drilling to remove decayed tooth tissue 9,000 years ago in Western Pakistan and the use of beeswax as dental filling 6,500 years ago in Slovenia.
The next time you go to the dentist, be glad that they aren’t filing down your teeth with a piece of rock.