This 14,000-Year-Old Tooth is the Oldest Existing Example of Dentistry

A 14,000-year-old skeleton found in Northern Italy seemed like just any other example of well-preserved prehistoric life.

Yet recently, further study into the skeleton’s teeth revealed something truly amazing: the oldest known example of dentistry in existence.

It’s a sign that our earliest ancestors not only understood the harmful nature of tooth decay — they actively worked to remove the infected dental tissue, as well.

According to Discovery News, the skeleton’s lower right third molar, which had been infected with a large cavity, shows distinctive marks that indicate a small, pointed flint tool had been used to clean it and pick away at the infected tissue.

A team of researchers led by Stefano Benazzi, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Bologna, made the discovery. Before this, the oldest known evidence of dentistry existed in the form of 9,000-year-old molars that had been drilled, which were uncovered in a Neolithic graveyard in Pakistan.

“It predates any undisputed evidence of dental and cranial surgery, currently represented by dental drillings and cranial trephinations dating back to the Mesolithic-Neolithic period, about 9,000-7,000 years ago,” Benazzi said.

The world’s first known dental patient was a young man living in Northern Italy, who was about 25 years old at the time of his death. Archaeologists first uncovered his well-preserved skeleton in 1988, in a rock shelter near Belluno, a town north of Venice, Italy.

Because the man’s molar showed signs of wear around the cavity, Benazzi said it’s likely the procedure was performed long before he died. Due to a lack of modern aesthetics, it’s safe to assume the man’s dental treatment was a very painful experience.

Today, with 99.7% of Americans believing a smile can make or break one’s social skill set, it’s obvious that most of us care about the health of our teeth. Who knew our oldest ancestors felt the same concern over their smiles, too?

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