Dentists have only been recognized as a medical profession for about 200 years, and the word “dentist” itself isn’t much older than that. But evidence of dentists working on people’s teeth goes back thousands of years, including the newest evidence discovered, pushing back the first dental surgery to 14,000 years ago, during the Paleolithic Era.
Reshaping Teeth with Stone Tools
The evidence of these early dentists comes from a single tooth described by researchers at the University of Bologna. This tooth has a cavity and there’s extensive chipping away of the enamel around the tooth defect. The evidence comes from a dig site in Italy that was discovered in 1988, though the dental work was only noticed recently.
Researchers think that the people of the time adapted the toothpicking technique which was common among paleolithic peoples (and, indeed, was used by the earliest members of the genus Homo) to scrape out decayed tooth enamel and bacteria. Based on experiments, they think the dental tools were probably made of flint, which is good for making stone tools. The presence of small stone flakes related to the manufacture of spear and arrowheads probably made suitable tools easy to find with little need to modify them for dental applications.
This evidence of dental work is about 5000 years older than the previous oldest hints at a dentist. In 2006, researchers reported evidence of drilling in teeth found in skeletal remains in Pakistan from about 9000 years ago. In 2012, researchers reported finding beeswax being used as a filling of a decayed tooth. The tooth, which was found in Slovenia, was not drilled or scraped. The beeswax was simply applied.
Likely not Sedation Dentists
What makes many people cringe about these early examples of dental work is that they were likely performed without any anesthesia whatsoever. Although Jean Auel’s fanciful work The Clan of the Cave Bear shows healing women treating pain from a dental extraction with datura, this was probably not the case. At least, there is no evidence linking datura use to any of the sites where dental work was found.
Thank goodness for technology! Nowadays if you are having any kind of dental work done, we can not only numb any discomfort you might experience, we can use sedation dentistry to prevent anxiety and stress that comes from your fear of the dentist.
To learn how a modern dentist in Altamonte Springs can treat your discomfort, please call (407) 834-6446 for an appointment at the office of Dr. Michael L. Weinstock today.