Beeswax Filling Oldest Piece Of Dentistry

By Amir Khan on September 20, 2012 12:21 PM EDT

Tooth
An ancient, cracked tooth found in the Slovenia may contain the earliest known evidence of dentistry, according to a new study, published in the journal PLoS ONE. The tooth, 65 centuries old, has a filling made out of beeswax, researchers said. (Photo: Creative Commons)

An ancient, cracked tooth found in the Slovenia may contain the earliest known evidence of dentistry, according to a new study, published in the journal PLoS ONE. The tooth, 65 centuries old, has a filling made out of beeswax, researchers said.

The tooth was found in a jaw that was discovered more than 100 years ago. It likely belonged to a man between the ages of 24 and 30. The tooth, a left canine, had a crack in its hard enamel and soft dentin layers, though researchers said the wear and tear is likely not from food. Men at the time may have used their teeth to help make tools, which could have contributed to the crack.

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"It was extremely difficult for somebody to identify the dentistry work by naked eye or simple tools," Claudio Tuniz, study author and nuclear paleoanthropologist at the Abdus Salam International Center for Theoretical Physics in Italy, said, according to CBS News. "[The jaw laid in a museum] for 101 years without somebody noticing anything strange on the canine."

Researchers could not identify if the beeswax filling was applied before or after the man died, but if it while he was alive, it is a major finding.

"This finding is perhaps the most ancient evidence of prehistoric dentistry in Europe," Federico Bernardini, study researcher and an archaeologist at the international center, said, according to CBS.

The beeswax was likely used to ease the pain from the cracked tooth, and researchers will now test whether the substance can be a viable alternative to other fillings, such as mercury. They will also investigate into whether other Neolithic societies used similar techniques.

"At the moment we do not have any idea if this is an isolated case or if similar interventions were quite spread in Neolithic Europe," Bernardini told LiveScience. "In collaboration with our interdisciplinary team, we are planning to analyze other Neolithic teeth in order to understand how widespread these types of interventions were."

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