Italian researchers have found a dental tool that led them to conclude that the first operation for toothache was performed 14,000 years ago. They were analyzing the skeleton of a caveman found in Italy's Dolomite Mountains in 1988.
A report published in Scientific Reports
journal said scientists from the Italian universities of Bologna and Ferrara found a tiny flint tool, called a microlith, that was used to file away a rotting cavity to halt infection in the skeleton's molar tooth.
"The discovery showed the creative and technological ability that was present before the Neolithic (New Stone Age)," said Marco Peresani, from the University of Ferrara.
"The discovery shows that the man from the end of the Paleolithic, or early Stone Age, period was aware of the damaging nature of an infected cavity and of the need to intervene with microlithic tools to remove the infection," Research coordinator Stefano Benazzi, from the University of Bologna, said.
The microlith was used to pick the infected tissue from inside the tooth, he added.
It is the earliest known example of dentistry and suggests that dentistry evolved from the much older and more widespread practice of tooth-picking, in which a twig or bone was used to remove food matter from between the teeth to maintain oral hygiene.
Until now, the oldest existing evidence of paleiodentistry (dentistry in early stone age) dated such operations between nine and seven thousand years ago.