Dental care may be as old as mankind. New research indicates that our earliest ancestors used toothpicks to ease tooth and gum pain. Much like modern man, Neanderthals didn't like having food stuck between their teeth, and often used thin sticks or rigid stalks of grass as toothpicks.
What makes the new research remarkable isn't that Neanderthals picked at their teeth. That has long been suspected. Rather, it is significant that such actions were linked to palliative care, due to their presence around fossils that show signs of gingivitis. According to National Geographic, "The fossils displayed evidence of periodontal disease, along with telltale toothpick marks. That led the researchers to hypothesize that Neanderthals employed toothpicks not just to clean teeth and dislodge food particles, but also to help relieve pain and inflammation caused by gum disease."
Researchers speculate that bone remnants affected by gingivitis would have been accompanied by severe pain or discomfort during the individual's lifetime. Using toothpicks beyond a mere tool, and more in conjunction with the uses associated with dental products would give greater insight into the lives of our earliest ancestors.
National Geographic explains the finding's significance, "If the toothpick finding bears out, it would be the oldest evidence of palliative dental care of its kind. And it would suggest that the Neanderthal was no technological slouch."