Evidence of prehistoric dentistry has been limited to a few cases, the most ancient dating back to the Neolithic. Here we report a 6500-year-old human mandible from Slovenia whose left canine crown bears the traces of a filling with beeswax. The use of different analytical techniques, including synchrotron radiation computed micro-tomography, Accelerator Mass Spectrometry radiocarbon dating, Infrared Spectroscopy and Scanning Electron Microscopy, has shown that the exposed area of dentine resulting from occlusal wear and the upper part of a vertical crack affecting enamel and dentin tissues were filled with beeswax shortly before or after the individual?s death. If the filling was done when the person was still alive, the intervention was likely aimed to relieve tooth sensitivity derived from either exposed dentine and/or the pain resulting from chewing on a cracked tooth: this would provide the earliest known direct evidence of therapeutic-palliative dental filling.
Several molar crowns with regularly shaped cavities with concentric ridges, discovered some 6 years ago in a Neolithic graveyard in Pakistan, are the most ancient evidence of dentistry practice. Other findings that suggest dental interventions during the Neolithic are very rare and include a very dubious therapeutic dental treatment identified in the Gaione graveyard (Italy) and an artificial tooth from the cemetery of Gebel Ramlah (Egypt), which could have been used as a dental prosthesis.
Although the possibility of treatment of sensitive tooth structure by means of some type of filling has been supposed, there is no published evidence, as far as we know, on the use of therapeutic-palliative substances in prehistoric dentistry. In ancient Egypt, external applications, composed of honey mixed with mineral ingredients, were used to fix loose teeth or to reduce the pain, as reported in the Papyrus Ebers, dating back to the XVI century BC.
In this emerging framework of ancient dental therapeutic practices, the finding of a human partial mandible associated with contemporary beeswax, covering the occlusal surface of a canine, could represent a possible case of therapeutic use of beeswax during the Neolithic.
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