Did our ancient ancestors know anything about dentistry? New evidence indicates that your dentist may actually be following a tradition of impressive antiquity.
A 6,500 year-old-tooth stuffed with beeswax, uncovered in Slovenia, indicates that cavewomen and men may have come up with surprisingly clever ways to heal their dental injuries, according to a new study published in the PLOS ONE peer review journal.
The left canine tooth in question was filled with beeswax to remedy an apparent vertical crack, and was found in a Slovenian cave, attached to a portion of what was likely a man's jawbone.
Beeswax was a popular binding agent during Neolithic times, and also lasts an extremely long time, as the researchers pointed out.
The nature of the crack indicates that it caused the sufferer quite a bit of pain, a condition that could be deadly for ancient people surviving on sustenance diets. (It's unclear how much longer he lived after using the beeswax treatment)
Whoever he was, he had very worn teeth—a condition commonly found in Neolithic people, who largely consumed coarse grains and other unrefined foods, and often used their teeth as auxiliary tools.
The researchers believe the find is the earliest prehistoric evidence of "therapeutic-palliative" ancient dentistry.
Older evidence exists in Pakistan of dental techniques involving drilling, dating from a remarkable 9,000 years ago.
These early Pakistani dentists were capable of drilling remarkably accurate holes in the teeth of live patients, although one suspects their pain-maintenance techniques weren't quite as good as what we have access to today.
Evidence exists that the ancient Egyptians, characteristically ahead of the technological game, used herbs, compresses, and possibly even prosthetic teeth to remedy their own dental woes.
Egyptian dentists produced a number of papyruses containing advice for proper toothcare, and considered themselves as much researchers as technicians.
Here's an ancient Egyptian cure for halitosis, in case you were considering running out to buy mouthwash instead:
"Breath Sweetener: Take frankincense, myrrh,
cinnamon, bark and other fragrant plants, boil
with honey and shape into pellet."
The Egyptians also thought that honey was useful as a medical treatment due to its viscous nature and its known antibacterial properties, echoing the innovation this Slovenian man likely used.
It was good to be a dentist in ancient times, at least if you were in Egypt: in 2006, the tombs of three royal dentists were found near the Pyramids, indicating that they were people of high status.
Will modern day natural medicine fans begin demanding their own dental beeswax treatments? Give it time.