Planet Earth

The Earliest Known Dental Procedure

Roughly 14,000 years ago, someone used a stone tool to remove a cavity. It partly worked.

By Gemma TarlachNov 30, 2015 12:00 AM
tooth.jpg
Chipping at the top of the molar shows an attempt to remove a cavity. | Stefano Benazzi

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Researchers have found evidence of the earliest known dental procedure, and it’s not pretty. While examining the lower molar of a 14,000-yearold skeleton unearthed in northern Italy, University of Bologna archaeologist Stefano Benazzi discovered the tooth had a large cavity and numerous markings near it. Benazzi and his colleagues reported in Scientific Reports in July that the marks were made with a stone tool in an attempt to remove infected material from the cavity. The procedure “would have been quite painful,” says Benazzi, who added it was only partly successful (though at least the patient survived). His analysis included replicating the damage on modern teeth — relax, he used teeth that were already extracted. The discovery means dentistry is at least 5,000 years older than previously thought.

A microscopic view shows striations on the tooth. | Stefano Benazzi

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