Oldest tooth filling may have been found
Beeswax on this ancient jawbone indicates the earliest evidence of theraputic dentistry
September 19th, 2012
05:00 PM ET

Oldest tooth filling may have been found

We all know the drill: Slip up on your regular brush-and-floss routine, and you may end up at the dentist's office with a cavity that needs to be filled. But what people did about their toothaches thousands of years ago?

Scientists in Italy have discovered what may be the earliest evidence of therapeutic dentistry performed on a human.

A study published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One reports the discovery of a beeswax filling on the left canine of a 6,500-year-old human jawbone from Slovenia. It is housed at the Natural History Museum of Trieste, Italy.

“It was extremely difficult for somebody to identify the dentistry work by naked eye or simple tools,” Federico Bernardini and Claudio Tuniz, the study’s main coordinators, said in an e-mail to CNN. “In fact, the mandible [jawbone] remained in the museum for 101 years without somebody noticing anything strange on the canine.”

This jawbone was originally found partially embedded in calcite on the wall of a cave near the village of Lonche.

The beeswax on the surface of the tooth was discovered by chance while the scientists were testing their analytical methods.

They estimated the age of the beeswax with a large ion accelerator for radiocarbon dating. They also used a type of particle accelerator called a synchrotron to get a high-resolution, 3-D image of the tooth.

The study concluded that beeswax was applied to the tooth shortly before or after the individual's death, but they do not know which.

If the person was alive while the tooth was filled, the beeswax was likely intended to "relieve tooth sensitivity" resulting from exposed dentine or the pain of chewing on a cracked tooth, the study authors wrote.

Bernardini and Tuniz pointed out that the earliest “practice of dentistry was discovered some years ago in a 9,000-year-old graveyard in Pakistan, but there was no evidence of tooth filling.”

The new discovery “is the most ancient evidence of dentistry during the Neolithic in Europe and the earliest known direct example of therapeutic dental filling,” Bernardini and Tuniz wrote.

Scientists do not know whether therapeutic dentistry was widely practiced in Neolithic Europe.

soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. VuLe DDS

    The scepticism is justified. It could just be from chewing beeswax or something of the sort, but with the research put into it I’m inclined to believe the article.

    February 14, 2013 at 2:04 am |
  2. billy schleppegrell

    Viki I agree your theory is most probable

    January 25, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
  3. dougaussie

    the world was only created in 4000 BC so thats wrong.

    October 23, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  4. wildbio

    beehive attached to wall of cave – jawbone happened to be imbedded there

    October 12, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
  5. S Mohan

    Your post makes interesting reading. Living beings, whether humans or the four legged ones have and always had a survival instinct. We have modern technology and medicine to take care of our aches and pains but would humans; 9000 yrs or so back lived a life of pain? Definitely not. I am sure they had their own way of cure. As others are saying he could have been chewing on bee wax and when it hardened realized that it was a great dental implant. After all Archimedes too made a big discovery accidently, isn’t it?

    October 12, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  6. Keepalowprofile

    She was probably chewing on some bees wax, Enjoying the sweet treat and wham, an angry bear wanted the honey and killed her.

    October 10, 2012 at 12:28 am |
  7. donna

    Sometimes scientists make up fantasies to explain a small tidbit in an interesting way for publication. This is one such case.

    Nothing to see here. Move on.

    October 7, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • mcskadittle

      yes, the bible tells us that earth isn't even that old

      October 8, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  8. SoArizona

    Many people responding are absolutely correct. That the deposit was acci'dental" from ingesting honeycomb.

    October 6, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
  9. Property in Lucknow

    hi...This is very nice blog...
    Thanks for sharing this...
    Property in Lucknow

    October 4, 2012 at 6:03 am |
  10. w l jones

    Most country people chews BEE WAX as chewing gum. Bles.

    October 1, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  11. Ita Bor-Har

    I think is really hard to make this affirmation around the filling! In case, that could be the filling from a diet with honey, and accidently filled the cavity ????

    October 1, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  12. Kevin

    Viki is probably right to think this and I wouldn't doubt the conclusion she draws. While others might just believe that the aliens popped down completed some simple dental work, and off they went. I find it interesting to consider that most scientists today would tell us that tooth decay was not a problem in this era because people would have unprocessed foods.

    September 29, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  13. cacalips

    Imagine being alive in this time. The constant tooth pains etc. You just live with it. Now image the effect on psychology. Now think about people that needed glasses etc...and didnt have it. That means only the strongest lived the longest. Today, to many weaklings exist. Probably why the powerful rule em all and have an extermination plan for you. INFOWARS.com

    September 28, 2012 at 4:42 am |
  14. Hollywood

    Its no wonder people hate going to the dentist!

    September 27, 2012 at 3:47 am |
  15. wjmccartan

    You wouldn't think most people would live long enough to have dental work done, at that point in history. Sounds like a cool job, what would be the diet of a human being 8000 or 9000 years ago.

    September 26, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  16. Viki

    Have they excluded the possibility that the beeswax deposition was accidental? Have you ever tried to eat fresh honey? I have; you grab a part of the hive's wax, you stick in your mouth and chew on it, to suck the honey and separate the wax, which you then spit out => it will result in getting wax inside every hole of your teeth. Taphonomy for 6,500 may have removed all other wax evidence apart from the specific hole, which could be the deepest. Just a thought from a forensic and burial archaeologist.

    September 22, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • billy schleppegrell

      theory of wax chewing likely

      January 25, 2013 at 12:11 pm |

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