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Italian Researchers Find Beeswax Dental Repair Work in Ancient Tooth

A tooth found over a century ago may be evidence of one of society’s earliest forms of dentistry dating back thousands of years. The primordial tooth was found in Slovenia over 100 years ago and is estimated to be about 65 centuries old. It was located in a cave near the village of Lonche, which is in modern day Slovenia.

Italian researchers believe they have found the oldest dental filling in the tooth. The tooth, which is dated to be about 6,500 years old, contained a beeswax cap. It is believed by researchers the tooth belonged to an individual estimated to be 24 – 30 years of age.

According to Discovery News , researchers Claudio Tuniz, Federico Bernardini and colleagues at the Abdus Salam International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, were seeking to X-ray a fossilized jaw bone and stumbled upon the dental filling by accident.

To be sure of their discovery, the researchers conducted some additional scanning and imaging tests.

“The analyses showed a filled vertical crack in the hard enamel and softer dentin layers of the tooth. Infrared spectroscopy identified the filling material as beeswax,” according to the Discovery News report.

The researchers believe the beeswax filling was placed into the individual’s tooth just prior to or after he or she died. While a funerary ritual could not fully be ruled out, the researchers believe the beeswax was possibly used to relieve tooth sensitivity while the individual was still alive.

“Other teeth have exposed dentin but no beeswax was applied. This suggests that the canine caused particular discomfort during life. Concerning a possible post-mortem application of the beeswax, one could wonder why it was applied only on the exposed dentin of the canine,” the researchers wrote in their report.

According to Health Daily News (courtesy of U.S. News ), finding confirmed evidence of ancient dentistry is rare. Researchers are hoping to use this finding to gain additional insights into the possible ancient forms of dentistry that may have performed.

“This finding is perhaps the most ancient evidence of prehistoric dentistry in Europe and the earliest known direct example of therapeutic-palliative dental filling so far,” study co-leader Federico Bernardini, of the Abdus Salam International Center for Theoretical Physics, in Italy, said in a journal news release.

According to LiveScience (courtesy of CBS News ), other rare evidence of ancient dentistry includes a 7,500 to 9,500 year-old molars found in Pakistan that showed signs of cavity work and a 5,500-year-old artificial tooth was uncovered in Egypt.

This latest discovery can be used to build on the little knowledge there is about ancient dental practices. Bernardini and team plan to do additional research to see if this type of dentistry was common at that time.

“At the moment we do not have any idea if this is an isolated case or if similar interventions were quite spread in Neolithic Europe,” Bernardini told LiveScience, “In collaboration with our interdisciplinary team, we are planning to analyze other Neolithic teeth in order to understand how widespread these types of interventions were.”

The full research of this finding about primitive dentistry has been published in the journal PLoS One .