Italian researchers believe they have discovered the oldest dental filling — a beeswax cap applied to a left canine tooth about 6,500 years ago. The filling was discovered by chance as Claudio Tuniz, Federico Bernardini and colleagues at the Abdus Salam International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste used a fossilized jaw bone to test new X-ray imaging equipment.
Found early last century embedded on the wall of a karstic cave near the village of Lonche, in what is now Slovenia, the bone most likely belonged a 24–30-year-old individual. Now kept in the Natural History Museum of Trieste, Italy, the specimen consists of the left portion of an adult mandible with a canine, two premolars, and the first two molars. To confirm their finding, the researchers used different analytical techniques, including synchrotron radiation computed micro-tomography (micro-CT), Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) and Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM).
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. Radiocarbon dating then established that both the filling and the tooth were about 6,500 years old, suggesting that the treatment was done shortly before or after the individual’s death. The severe wear seen on the tooth was probably due “to its use in non-alimentary activities, possibly such as weaving, generally performed by Neolithic females,” Tuniz said. Via Ancient Tooth Shows Oldest Sign of Dentistry