Scientists originally thought that dentistry didn’t develop until after agriculture became common and high carbohydrate grains and similar foods led to a rapid increase in cavities. But evidence indicates that Neolithic humans were competent dentists—at least to the extent that existing tools allowed.
The First Fillings?
A fossilized jawbone discovered over 100 years ago was recently re-studied using high-resolution 3D and it was found that beeswax had been used to fill a long crack in a canine. The wax and tooth were both dated to be around 6500 years old, making it likely the beeswax was used while the individual was still alive. Until very recently, this was thought to be the oldest known use of a filling.
Researchers believe a small bow was used to drive flint drill tips into the teeth to remove decayed tissue—possibly to relieve the pain—through the process itself was probably very painful.
Moving the Timeline
Recent findings point to dentistry techniques being implemented over 14,000 years ago. It is now believed that the earliest fillings date to that time. Two teeth found in northern Italy show signs of having been scoured, probably by a sharp stone, to remove tissue.
Researchers point out that it is possible that the holes were made to insert jewelry, but the area was covered with bitumen, a tarlike substance used by Stone Age people to attach tools to handles. This makes it far more likely that this the earliest example of treating decay with fillings.
Prevention Still the Best Medicine
Neanderthals had to go through those painful procedures because they didn’t know about good oral healthcare. Today we know that brushing and flossing daily, along with making regular dental appointments, go a long way to avoiding decay.