Wax Filling Was the Cutting Edge of Stone-Age Dentistry

By Sophie Bushwick | September 21, 2012 4:05 pm

This Stone Age human jawbone contains a tooth with the
oldest filling ever found

We’re lucky to live in a modern age, an age when, instead of ripping out a painful cavity-ridden tooth, we can have dentists drill away the rotten bit and plug up the hole with a filling. But a new discovery reveals that fillings aren’t just modern conveniences: they date back to the Stone Age. Researchers have discovered that a tooth on a 6500-year-old human jawbone has a large cavity covered by a beeswax cap—making that wax the oldest dental filling ever discovered.

The well-cared-for jaw was discovered in a cave in Slovenia. Radiocarbon dating indicates that both the jawbone and the wax filling come from the Stone Age. And a close examination of the teeth shows that the left canine has worn enamel, a vertical crack, and a beeswax cap that partially fills the cavity.

While the beeswax may have been applied as a coating before the crack opened, or placed after death as part of a funeral ritual, the researchers think it was a filling. It looks like the cavity formed before the wax’s application, and it seems odd that a funeral ritual would have targeted a single tooth—no wax was placed on the other teeth, even those with some damage. This particular crack would have been a nasty, painful cavity, and the beeswax probably soothed the pain and insulated the damaged tooth from temperature changes and contact with food. Today’s fillings serve a similar purpose—but we drill a cavity before filling it in order to remove the decayed part of the tooth. For that kind of technology, our 6500-year-old friend would have to…go back another 2500 years.

Image courtesy of PLoS ONE


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