We have known for a long time that ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans drilled and cleaned decayed teeth. Recently, archeologists have found evidence that many prehistoric civilizations also had methods to deal with cavities, and some even used advanced tools that did an excellent job of cleaning out the infected tooth.
Dental fillings evolved throughout history, but many find it surprising how early modern materials appeared.
A pair of 13,000-year-old front teeth found in Italy contain the earliest known use of fillings – made out of bitumen. The teeth, two upper central incisors belonging to one person, were discovered at the Riparo Fredian site near Lucca in northern Italy.
Researchers found a young man with beeswax dental fillings in a cave in Trieste, Italy. They believe the remains date back at least 6,000 years ago and indicate an early form of dental filling. There are few other examples of ancient remains containing dental fillings, but not much is known about the earliest origins of dentistry.
Even thousands of years ago people realized that it was important to keep teeth clean. Ancient teeth have been found with wearing patterns that were probably made from using toothpicks. Many different people groups frayed the ends of twigs to create toothbrushes. The Chinese chewed on aromatic tree twigs to freshen breath and invented the first known toothbrushes. These toothbrushes had handles of bone or bamboo, with bristles from pig necks.
Some cultures used relatively simple ingredients for toothpaste such as charcoal, ashes, walnut shells, or lemon juice. Others created a more complex formula. Egyptians blended rock salt, mint, dried iris flower, and pepper. Greeks and Romans often used crushed bones, oyster shells, and flavoring. Over the millennia, Ancient Chinese people used salt and many different herbs, including ginseng and mint.
In the 19th century, metal fillings were used to fill teeth. The metal (which could be any metal from gold, tin, silver, etc.) was softened and put into the tooth. Later on in the 19th century, dental amalgams were introduced to the western hemisphere. A dental amalgam is a type of filling that consists of a mix of tin, silver, mercury, and copper.
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