2 teeth with fillings 2 teeth with fillings An international team of researchers says it's found the earliest known evidence of dental work. (Photo: American Journal of Physical Anthropology)

Behold, the world’s oldest tooth fillings

Archaeologists in Italy discovered ancient teeth with large cavities, suggesting that dentistry goes back a lot longer than we thought.

Apparently cavemen got cavities, too. What archaeologists are calling the earliest evidence of dentistry to date was discovered in Tuscany, Italy, in the form of two front teeth with large fillings believed to be about 13,000 years old. And not a toothbrush in sight.

The teeth were found by a team of researchers from Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy and the U.S., who published their findings in the online edition of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

"It is quite unusual, not something you see in normal teeth," Stephano Benazzi, an archaeologist at the University of Bologna and a member of the team, told New Scientist. In their report, the team said the teeth confirm that the practice of dentistry occurred "long before the socioeconomic changes associated with the transition to food production in the Neolithic."

teeth found in italyThe researchers dated the teeth between 13,000 and 12,740 years ago. (Photo: Gregorio Oxilia)

The two teeth, researchers said, were found to have been filled with bitumen, a tar-like binding material used commonly in the Paleolithic period for various purposes – but until now, not dentistry. This suggests, along with the appearance of holes drilled into the center, that the filling was meant to prevent tooth decay.

"The lack of bitumen on any surface other than the inside of the pulp cavities is suggestive of intentional placement," the report stated.

A previous study in 2012 found evidence of beeswax used to fill cavities among Neolithic humans. This recent study is the first to link dental fillings as far back as the Paleolithic period.

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