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Oldest example of dentistry found in a 14,000 year old tooth

An extremely well preserved skeleton was found in 1988 in northern Italy and was dated between 13,820 and 14,160 years old. The skeleton was found in the Veneto Dolomites, near a town called Belluno, which is roughly 62 miles north of Venice. It was discovered in a rock shelter burial named Ripari Villabruna.

One of the teeth was found to have been infected, and partially cleaned with flint tools during the lifetime of the man, who was thought to be around 25 years old.

The cavity was originally misdiagnosed by the archaeologists as a simple carious lesion, but upon further study, they realised the right third molar retained a large occlusal cavity with four cavities.

“It is thought to predate any undisputed evidence of dental and cranial surgery currently represented by dental drillings and cranial trephinations dating back to the Mesolitihic-Neolitihic period, about 9,000-7,000 years ago.” Stefano Benazzi, a Paleoanthropologist at the University of Bologna, said.

Previously, beeswax dental fillings were discovered in a human tooth discovered in Slovenia that was dated 6,500 years old. Dental drilling, which is carried out to remove decayed tissue, was also discovered in a human molar from a Neolithic graveyard in Pakistan. The molar was dated 9,000 years old.

Toothpicks, widely believed to be made from bone and wood during this time, were found to be used to remove bits of food from between the teeth during the Paleolithic era, but until now, no evidence had been found that associated these toothpicks with tooth decay.

The tooth also demonstrates the oldest archaeological example of an operative manual intervention on a pathological condition, according to Benazzi. “This shows that Late Upper Paleolithic humans were aware about the deleterious effect of cavities, and the need to intervene with an invasive treatment to clean a deep dental cavity.” He added. Benazzi also noted that the enamel around the cavity was partially rounded and polished due to wear, which would suggest that the treatment was carried out long before the death of the individual.

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