Tooth Reveals Earliest Known Visit to Dentist
About 14K years ago in Italy
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 17, 2015 2:33 PM CDT
A file photo of a plastic casting of the skull of an ancient skeleton.   (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

(Newser) – Prehistoric man got cavities, too, and just like us, they had to go to the dentist. Researchers studying a 14,000-year-old infected molar say someone tried to clean it with flint tools—a discovery that amounts to the first known evidence of dentistry, reports Atlas Obscura. The patient was a roughly 25-year-old man who lived in what is now northern Italy. When researchers examined his tooth with a microscope, they found "extensive enamel chipping." And while prehistoric people were known to have used toothpicks made of wood or bone, this clearly wasn't the result of that.

“It predates any undisputed evidence of dental and cranial surgery," the lead researcher from the University of Bologna tells Discovery. Previously, dental drilling had been detected on 9,000-year-old molars found in modern Pakistan, but this more primitive scraping technique predates that by a mile. It looks like somebody "tried to dig out the rotten part of the man's tooth with a stone implement," in the words of the Christian Science Monitor. Though it wasn't entirely successful, the effort at least shows that even people of that era, the Upper Paleolithic to be precise, recognized the importance of dental hygiene and the danger of infected teeth, the researcher tells an Italian newspaper. (Someday, your cavities might fill themselves.)