Saturday, October 19, 2013

Neanderthals used toothpicks to alleviate gum disease

Removing food scraps trapped between the teeth one of the most common functions of using toothpicks, thus contributing to our oral hygiene. This habit is documented in the genus Homo, as early as Homo habilis, a species that lived between 1.9 and 1.6 million years ago.

Neanderthals used toothpicks to alleviate gum disease
In the left image, the arrow shows the interproximal groove of the upper Pm3. The right image is a groove detail view as seen with an Environmental Chamber Electron Microscope [Credit: Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona]
New research based on the Cova Foradà Neanderthal fossil shows that this hominid also used toothpicks to mitigate pain caused by oral diseases such as inflammation of the gums (periodontal disease). It is the oldest documented case of palliative treatment of dental disease done with this tool.

This research is based on toothpicking marks on the Neanderthal teeth related to periodontal disease. The chronology of the fossil is not clear, but the fossil remains were associated with a Neanderthal Mousterian lithic industry (about 150,000 to 50,000 years).

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