6,500-Year Old Beeswax May Be Oldest Known Dental Filling

From the archives of an Italian museum, researchers may have found the oldest dental filling

A scanning electron microscope
A scanning electron microscope image of the ancient tooth, and the location of the beeswax filling. Bernardini et al., PLOS One

Long before the advent of the tooth fairy, early human societies were practicing dentistry to varying degrees of sophistication. New research by Frederico Bernardini and colleagues may supplement the earliest known records of dentistry, describing what they believe to be a beeswax filling in the tooth of a man that dates to 6,500 years ago. That early patient, they say, once lived in ancient Slovenia. But his skull had for the past century been resting in an Italian museum. New Scientist:

“The jawbone remained in the museum for 101 years without anybody noticing anything strange,” says Claudio Tuniz at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste. That was until Tuniz and his colleague Federico Bernardini happened to use the specimen to test new X-ray imaging equipment, and spotted some unusual material attached to a canine.

As seen in the scanning electron microscope image above, the researchers found that “the material, which infrared spectroscopy identified as beeswax, filled a large crack and a cavity in the tooth. Radiocarbon dating of the wax and the tooth found both to be around 6500 years old.”

In their study, the authors write that a crack in the Slovenian man’s tooth was filled in either while his was still alive, or potentially, after he died. They suggest that, “f 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.”

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