Dentistry thrived in the Neolithic

timesofindia

[ Wednesday, April 05, 2006 11:27:23pm AP ]

WASHINGTON: Proving prehistoric man’s ingenuity and ability to withstand and inflict excruciating pain, researchers have found that dental drilling dates back 9,000 years.

Primitive dentists drilled nearly perfect holes into live but undoubtedly unhappy patients between 5,500 BC and 7,000 BC, an article in Nature reports. Researchers carbon-dated at least nine skulls with 11 drill holes found in a Pakistan graveyard.

That means dentistry is at least 4,000 years older than first thought — and older than the invention of anaesthesia. This was no mere tooth tinkering. The drilled teeth found in the graveyard were hard-to-reach molars.

And in at least one instance, the ancient dentist managed to drill a hole in the inside back end of a tooth, boring out toward the front of the mouth. The holes went as deep as one-seventh of an inch. “The holes were so perfect, so nice,” said study co-author David Frayer, an anthropology professor at the University of Kansas.

“I showed the pictures to my dentist and he thought they were amazing holes.” How it was done is painful just to think about. Researchers figured that a small bow was used to drive the flint drill tips into patients’ teeth.

…Flint drill heads were found on site. So study lead author Roberto Macchiarelli, an anthropology professor at the University of Poitiers, France, and colleagues simulated the technique and drilled through human (but no longer attached) teeth in less than a minute.

“Definitely, it had to be painful for the patient,” Macchiarelli said. Researchers were impressed by how advanced the society was in Baluchistan province. The drilling occurred on ordinary men and women.

The dentistry, probably, evolved from intricate ornamental bead drilling that was also done by the society there, went on for about 1,500 years until about 5,500 BC, Macchiarelli said. After that, there were no signs of drilling. Macchiarelli and Frayer said the drilling was likely done to reduce the pain of cavities.

Macchiarelli pointed to one unfortunate patient who had a tooth drilled twice. Another patient had three teeth drilled. Four drilled teeth showed signs of cavities. No sign of fillings were found, but there could have been an asphalt-like substance inside, he said.

Richard Glenner, a Chicago dentist, wouldn’t bite on the idea that this was good dentistry. The drilling could have been decorative or to release “evil spirits” more than fighting tooth decay, he said, adding, “Why did they do it? No one will ever know.”

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