Details of 14,000-Year-Old Dentistry Make Me Want to Cry

By Adam Clark Estes on at

Dentists are scary. Even in the most modern medical scenario, it is undeniably horrifying for someone to stick sharp objects in your mouth. Imagine what it was like in the Stone Age. Actually, you don’t have to because a team of scientists just found the earliest example of dentistry, and it’s absolutely horrifying.

A new study published in Scientific Reports details “the oldest known evidence of dental caries [decay] intervention” in the remains of a 25-year-old man who died in northern Italy some 14,000 years ago during the Upper Palaeolithic Period. This is the later stage of the Stone Age and a time when cave painting and rock art where all the rage.

The study reveals that it’s also a period when dental hygiene shifted from the somewhat invasive use of toothpicks to the very invasive (and painful-sounding!) practice of combating cavities with “pointed flint tools”. The study specifies that these sharp rocks were used for “scratching and leveraging activities” aimed at eradicating the infect.

Just look at the photo of the tooth in question and tell me you don’t want to cry. That said, the science behind the discovery is undeniably fascinating. The researchers used Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) to take close up photos (see below) of the tooth’s enamel and then tested various types of materials like wood and bone before determining that the earliest known dentist’s torture tool was indeed a piece of sharp flint.

Details of 14,000-Year-Old Dentistry Make Me Want to Cry

Now, just imagine the feeling of rock scraping the inside of your molar, and don’t ever complain about the teeny prick of a numbing needle ever again. [Scientific Reports via Atlas Obscura]