Prehistoric tooth reveals painful dentistry


 And before the advent of local anaesthetic, the process of treating cavities sounds fairly miserable. Photo / Thinkstock

Much has changed since the paleolithic era – the invention of
agriculture, the advent of organised religion, the rise and fall of
civilisations – but one fact hasn’t: people got cavities then, as now.
And before the advent of local anaesthetic, the process of treating them sounds fairly miserable.
In a study published in the Journal Scientific Reports, researchers examine the earliest known evidence that humans treated dental caries, better known (and deplored) as cavities.
team of mostly Italian and German researchers examining a
14,000-year-old molar found strange striations and chipping on the
ancient enamel of a partially rotten tooth. When they tested the marks,
they realised they must have been made by pointed stone tools that were
used to probe and scrape away at the decayed area. The fact the chipped
area was worn out confirmed the scratches were made while the tooth’s
owner was still alive – and, given the lack of local anesthetic,
probably painfully aware.

The molar’s owner, a 25-year-old male skeleton, was uncovered
from a rock shelter in northern Italy in 1988. Scientists have studied
the ancient specimen for decades without realising the holes in the
man’s lower right third molar might be more than just a bad cavity.
The finding predates the next-oldest evidence of dentistry by as much as 5000 years, according to lead author Stefano Benazzi.

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