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Stone Age Dentists 219

morleron writes "Scientists have found evidence in Pakistan that the Stone Age had dentists. They used flint drills to remove cavities and attempt other tooth repair. No evidence as to whether or not the patients were conscious during the procedures."
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Stone Age Dentists

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  • In other news, ancient people from Bedrock had cars, which they powered with their feet. Scientists have located stone cylinders next to sticks, which can only have one possible meaning. No evidence as to whether or not this is really the case. NOTE: This is a joke. Plain and simple. The article is actually pretty cool.
  • by lovedew ( 964626 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @01:18AM (#15089800) Homepage
    No evidence as to whether or not the patients were conscious during the procedures

    During the "Stone" Age, I think it's obvious that even the patients were conscious, they weren't be soon after the procedures started.

    I'm more interested in knowing if the patients were still alive after the procedures.
    • by eln ( 21727 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @01:25AM (#15089815) Homepage
      I think it's safe to say that they all died at some point after the procedures.
    • Re:Consciousness (Score:2, Informative)

      The article states that the teeth showed use-wear from chewing, indicating that the tooth excavations were indeed performed in mouth and the patients did live for an appropriately long length of time in that they continued to have use of their mouth.

      Kinda like the romans and ?mayans/incas/aztecs(one of the three, don't feel like doing the google)? performing brain surgery and the patients living. This was proved by bone growth around the openings.
    • Re:Consciousness (Score:3, Informative)

      I'm more interested in knowing if the patients were still alive after the procedures.

      Successful brain surgery dates back to at least 3,000 BCE, so it wouldn't surprise me.

      I'd like to know what (if anything) they were using for fillings.
    • You could RTFA, which describes how scientists can tell that patients lived longer than the treatments' duration.
    • it's not *that* bad (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Quadraginta ( 902985 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @03:15AM (#15089992)
      Eh, let us not wildly exaggerate the pain involved. My father had all his fillings as a child without anaesthesia. It isn't unheard of for people to refuse it today.

      What I find more curious about this report is that the ancient men were observant enough to realize that if you stopped the decay by drilling it out, you needn't lose the tooth later. As late as the 18th century or so, I believe the standard treatment for a decaying tooth was: (1) wait until it really starts to hurt, and then (2) pull it out. Drilling the decay out (while preserving the tooth) is a lot more sophisticated.
      • I prefer no anaesthesia as well if it's only a filling. Sure, it's painful, but you can get through it. Besides, the very thought of that needle...
      • I know there's a high nerd-factor, but it's the little details like this that keep making me think there's something to the idea of advanced civilizations predating the birth of civilization as we understand it today.

        Hindi mystics traditionally have a word for 1/36,000,000th of a second, although none of them know why. Indian atomism describes 3 types of indivisible particles that can combine to form all the elements we know (a theory that suspiciously resembles current ideas of subatomic particles). Now
        • Yeah, in reality it's very unlikely

          I'm also intrigued by the idea, and am not even sure why it's supposed to be so unlikely. Homo Sapiens existed for probably at least 200,000 years with the same physiological capacities as today. I don't really see why a development at least to the level of ancient Egypt should have occurred only once during the last 10,000 of the available years.
          There is some evidence (not so good link for Sudanese pyramid-building cultures predating Egypt, whose architectural remains wer
        • I agree it's unlikely, but I don't think it's as very unlikely as you said. Even in the 2500 years for which we have decent records, civilization has seemed at times to advance and recede. It's been suggested by perfectly sober historians, for example, that the life of a Roman citizen of New Carthage (modern Cartagena) in 100 AD was much closer to modern life, in terms of public hygiene, literacy and education, and the sophistication of urban life, than was the life of a English subject in 16th century Lo
          • At some point in advancement a society begins to produce artifacts that WILL last 50 million years, or at least leave traces. If every human on the planet died today, I think a civilization 50 million years from now could tell we were here. In particular, Radioisotopes in nuclear waste with 100k year half lives would still exist in detectable quantities after that long. Also, our moon landers would still be sitting up there, barring moon-destroying interplanetary meteor activity.
            • Well, you're right, so that's why I said the odds are against finding an ancient civilization near ours. But I don't think it's anywhere near impossible.

              I'm not sure much of what we've built would survive 50 million years. That's an awful long time. Continents move, climate changes, mountain ranges are uplifted and eroded down, rivers change course, seas are formed and dry up again. Your typical 50 million year old strata is 50 to 100 feet down, I believe. So those artifacts would be whatever survives
          • We have explored archaelogically very little of the Earth's surface, and mostly only where we already have reasons to suspect interesting stuff is buried. Further, consider that almost the entire temperate zone of the Earth has been ground down by glaciers several times in the last 250,000 years.

            Hell, end of the last ice age vast amounts of the Earth changed, much of what was coastline became pretty far out into the ocean. In fact, we've only recently really started seriously thinking about looking out th

        • Hindi mystics traditionally have a word for 1/36,000,000th of a second, although none of them know why. Indian atomism describes 3 types of indivisible particles that can combine to form all the elements we know (a theory that suspiciously resembles current ideas of subatomic particles).

          Have you read Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics [amazon.com] ? It's an entertaining look at how closely some Eastern religious beliefs follow modern notions of physics and cosmology. In the end, however, you have to assume that it's

      • As late as the 18th century or so

        After the Middle Ages, LOTS of stuff had to be rediscovered (often badly, often not at all) that was well-known before the christian churches destroyed or locked up "pagan" knowledge and killed the people in the know.
        • Actually, you're about 1000 years off!

          A hell of a lot of Western knowledge was lost due to the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria, which happened early in the 1st millenium. Amongst other things lost were originals of Aristotle and Euclid, and Heron's plans for his steam car.

          It's thought by some that we still haven't brought geometry to the state it was in before the Dark Ages.

          We do have to keep in mind though that non-western civilisations kept most of their knowledge until the colonial powers t

          • It's thought by some that we still haven't brought geometry to the state it was in before the Dark Ages.

            Only by those who don't read Hebrew, Arabic, and Farsi (which, sadly, includes almost every scholar of Hellenic math and sciences). I remember once in a Hellenic conics class I was taking the prof. said "unfortunately, book III of whatever has been lost", which surprised me because we had just been studying the Arabic version of book III of whatever that week in my medieval Arabic class.

            Incidentally,

          • Agreed insofar as the burning of the library was also a great loss, but mainly of what is now considered "classical" stuff, e.g., greek.

            Disagreed insofar as that does not mean I'm "off". I was merely talking about something else, namely the extermination of the knowledge of the celtic, germanic, etc. cultures. This did still happen even though it was not the only event in which knowledge was lost, as you rightly pointed out.

            E.g., most of the knowledge about the healing and other properties of local European
        • After the Middle Ages, LOTS of stuff had to be rediscovered (often badly, often not at all) that was well-known before the christian churches destroyed or locked up "pagan" knowledge and killed the people in the know.

          I rarely defend Christianity, but I do think it deserves a more balanced view than this one. The Catholic Church, its monasteries and universities, and the "Holy Roman Empire" at least kept alive the memory (and some of the works) of the great civilization that fell apart. Without it it would h
      • Eh, let us not wildly exaggerate the pain involved. My father had all his fillings as a child without anaesthesia. It isn't unheard of for people to refuse it today.

        I never had a filling done with an anaesthetic. There is really hardly any pain involved if you don't need a root canal treatment first, and I don't think these stone age dentists did those. Root canals are doable without anaesthesia too: I tried it twice.
    • I would instead say that they were not counscious at all!
      Even if they were stone age people, none would consciously go to a dentist using flint drills!
      • Re:Consciousness (Score:4, Insightful)

        by jamesh ( 87723 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @04:08AM (#15090084)
        You've obviously never suffered from dental pain have you? (Or you've forgotten how much it hurts. Memory of pain is like that)

        You'll find that most 'normal' (non-prescription and low-end prescription) drugs don't do a lot for you, and anything that might relieve the pain starts to seem like a good idea, even if it involves someone tinkering inside your mouth with a rock :)
    • Lack of progress (Score:4, Insightful)

      by CarpetShark ( 865376 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @05:01AM (#15090166)
      I don't know; I don't see a lot of advanced technology in today's dentistry. They have instruments with finer precision, sure, and they have fillings that last longer, but essentially, they're just plugging holes for the most part, which has always been possible with a bit of tree resin. Essentially, dentistry is a major contrast to other medical professions, because it has made little progress towards prevention or CURES for decay, besides physical stuff like toothpaste and floss.

      Lately, there was a slashdot story about changing the electrical properties of teeth so that plaque can't attach. In sci-fi, there are ideas like hermetically sealing teeth. I really think dentistry should be working much harder towards things like that.
      • [quote]In sci-fi, there are ideas like hermetically sealing teeth. I really think dentistry should be working much harder towards things like that.[/quote]

        What? And kill off all the profitable fillings, root canals, and all the rest?

      • The flint drills could carve holes just as good as a modern dental instrument in less than a minute. That's an awful lot faster than modern procedures. Although technology (x-rays, etc) have undoubtably improved in some respects, it seems evident that other aspects of modern dentistry are essentially unchanged from this primitive form, or perhaps even less sophisticated in some cases.
    • ...as scientificaly demonstrated by Tom Hanks in Cast Away [imdb.com] with an ice-skate blade and a rock!

      That scene still gives me the heebie jeebies just remembering it!

  • samzenpus from the old-drilling dept.

    Try the old Slashdot story department maybe?

    It's alright, us Slashdot readers understand. After having your teeth drilled without Novacaine it's understandable that you're suffering from memory loss or blocking out the trauma as previously reported.

    I wanna make a bow drill now.
    • I don't know. My father hates the numbing feeling of novacaine so much, he has endured fillings, crowns, and even several root canals without any pain killer.

      Now, I don't know how he does this, but I joke with him that he must have worked as a spy for the CIA. He says it's a matter of letting go and making your mind wander to something else - but I'm not about to test this.

      But anyway, he shows no memoryloss/blocking due to trauma. I imagine ancient peoples in general having a higher pain threshhold due t
      • Assuming you see your dentist regularly, your cavities should be spotted before they get anywhere near a nerve. I suspect that dentists give pain killers just in case the hole is deeper than it lokos, or in case they slip, and that in most cases wouldn't be required.
        • There's can also be decay on the front of the teeth, not deep, but sometimes the dentist cuts away the gum line to put in the filling. This was the case with me with my bottom front teeth (plus these teeth are thin, not much room to miss a nerve coming in from the side instead of the top).
      • Your dad is right on the pain.

        Pain is an electrical impulse being sent from a nerve to the brain, signaling the brain that pain exists. The brain then comprehends the pain, and responds appropriately.

        If you are mentally strong enough to ignore those sensations, there is no pain.

        Most people have a problem with doing this. Instead of being able to ignore the pain, they focus on it. People who can ignore the pain are usually the ones who can ignore a dripping f
    • After having your teeth drilled without Novacaine it's understandable that you're suffering from memory loss or blocking out the trauma as previously reported

      Come on, I have plenty of fillings and almost all of them have been done without anesthesia. Only when they extracted the wisdom teeth and when they had to work for 60 minutes to place a crown, I asked for anesthesia. Actually, with the wisdom teeth I didn't have an option and with the crown I'm still not sure that it was necessary. On the other hand

      • I was exagerating to explain the editor's apparent lapse of Dupe protection. I too have had a drilling or two even without Novacaine to numb the tooth, and survived just fine. I prefer with numbing though, I just make sure not to chew much for a couple hours.
  • It's always easy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sunwolf ( 853208 )
    ...to underestimate ancient people, maybe even necessary in order to gain a better appreciation of human nature, but it's heartening to know that we only underestimate ourselves. Now to master nano-age dentistry...
  • by kanweg ( 771128 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @02:16AM (#15089913)
    Any dentists here?

    If the tooth bone (pulp or whatever the stuff below the enamel is) is exposed, wouldn't it start to rot in no time?

    If yes and the further decay is limited (4 teeth showed decay associated with the hole), would that suggestion that they filled the hole with clay, resin, or some other material capable of hardening?

    Bert
    • by teethdood ( 867281 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @03:06AM (#15089974)
      IAAD (I AM A Dentist) Coronal tooth structure (the part that is above the gum) is composed of Enamel, Dentin, then Pulp. Enamel is very hard, not easily susceptible to decay. Dentin is softer, more sensitive, contains tubules that lead directly into the pulp. Bacteria can either secrete acids to break down dentin (most likely) or crawl their way into the pulp (less likely), causing pain, pulpitis, then necrosis. From the looks of the images, the ancient dentists drilled past the enamel into dentin. There is no mention of any attempt to fill these teeth (amalgam wasn't exactly perfected until the late 1800s, resin composites not until circa 1950s). It is not trivial to come up with a long-lasting filling material. Malleable gold comes to mind. Gold had been extensively used in dentistry dated back to I'd say 3000BC, not nearly old enough for these dentists. Most likely the recurrent decay found in those teeth resulted from plaque and bacteria making those un-filled drilled holes their home.
      • by r00t ( 33219 )
        Prior, you have a normal cavity. It might have a small opening in the top of a molar. The small opening could lead down to something much bigger. The inside is impossible to clean.

        Afterward, you have a great big hole. You'd at least have some hope of keeping it kind of clean so that things don't get much worse.

    • by (negative video) ( 792072 ) <me&teco-xaco,com> on Saturday April 08, 2006 @03:17AM (#15089995)
      I'm a dentist. It is a misconception that teeth "decay". The calcium-rich material is actually stripped away by dental mites, who use it to build nests behind the tonsils.

      Regarding the present discovery, it is thought that the tonsils were removed at the time of the dental work, disrupting the life cycle of the mites. Unfortunately the soft tissues were not preserved and the only evidence is indirect. Measurements of the skull ridges where the tonsils attach tend to support this theory, although it is difficult to know whether they represent tonsillectomy-induced changes or simply a natural variation in an isolated population.

      --
      Call now for our Become a Scientist in 21 Days program. If you act now we'll throw in 5 pounds of authority, absolutely free!!!

    • would that suggestion that they filled the hole with clay, resin, or some other material capable of hardening?

      Teeth filled with Amber - the ultimate in Stone Age 'bling.'
  • by Channard ( 693317 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @02:28AM (#15089929) Journal
    'I tell you, Barney, I don't need to see no dentist! I can do this myself...' 'But Fred...' 'Look, I've tied one end of this rope to my tooth, the other end to a boulder. Then I just push it over this cliff and... yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh!' 'Fred? Hey, where'd you go, Fred?' *voice from bottom of cliff* 'Call the dentist, Barn.'
  • by MindPrison ( 864299 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @02:31AM (#15089934) Journal
    Toothpain? No problem...Captain Caveman fix you good

    Captain Caveman apply anesthetics so you dont feel pain (SLAM!)
  • and this is how dentistry is still done there!
  • Why has there been such a precedent lately to post old news?
  • They used flint drills to remove cavities

    Em, a cavity is a hole, so can someone tell me how you remove a hole with a drill?

  • by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @03:48AM (#15090051)
    As I had a spate of dental problems the last year and because I was wondering why we evolves such apparently wretchedly fragile teeth (sharks have it nice, three rows of ever-emerging teeth keep popping up and the old ones pop out), and read up on dentistry in general to take better care of my teeth.

    There are a lot of people out there who keep repeating that cavities were not a problem in most people until refined sugar hit the scene around the 1700s and that the industrial revolution made it cheap for the masses.

    This is true to a point but I guess this article shows it's stupid to think that no one had cavities before refined sugar.

    Drspiller.com being a good site to look up some info. Meat won't give cavities. Natural starchy foods (vegetables like potatoes) and fruit have many natural fibers that wash their own sugars off your teeth before they have time to settle, and the acids in them negligent because of dilution. With a drink of water afterwards should prevent any problems.

    So it's true, processed and refined foods, especially with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, etcetera, are the biggest causes of cavities.

    However, dried fruits are sticky and should be treated as refined sugar or processed foods (these all can cause cavities) and may be the biggest cavity causer of the old world (along with perhaps alcohols, like mead, etcetera).
    • I was wondering why we evolves such apparently wretchedly fragile teeth

      It probably also has something to do with the fact that throughout most of human evolution, the average life span is *far* shorter than that of today. People just needed to survive to child bearing age and raise the child to self-suficiency, to be evolutionarily successful. That can be done by your teens. Even our fragile teeth, with poor hygiene, would likely last that long no problem. No that we're living well past our 30's, 40'

  • by front ( 159719 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @04:13AM (#15090099)
    Stone age dentistry happens even today... a little more updated, but not too much, for most of the billions on this planet.

    "Where There Is No Dentist" [hesperian.org]

    cheers

    front
    • ..the dental instruments and drillings discovered rival any modern technique - and almost certainly superior to any dentistry in the Middle Ages through to at least the advent of self-powered drills. (A saw-powered drill would be smoother, faster and more predictable than any foot-powered drill. Flint, although not great, was also likely superior to low-grade metals. The lack of conductivity may also have helped somewhat.)

      There is one part that intrigues me more than all of this put together, though. Flint

  • If humans in then stone-age were aware of how to handle toothdecay in such detail. (not just knocking out the affected teeth, but drilling) how come in the mideavil ages humans seemed to have reached a deep low? (I thought the French used anise to cover the smell of their rotting teeth and themselves)

    The more scientists discover [pbs.org] about humans in the stone-age, the more they appear to be very peaceful and more develloped as priorly portraited.

    • If humans in then stone-age were aware of how to handle toothdecay in such detail. (not just knocking out the affected teeth, but drilling) how come in the mideavil ages humans seemed to have reached a deep low? (I thought the French used anise to cover the smell of their rotting teeth and themselves)

      It was not until later in history that this trend developped ; during the middle ages, people were cleaner than you'd have thought. They took bath, knew how to make soap and used it. In fact, bathing was part

  • Fascinating. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by douglaid ( 897645 )
    My father was a dentist. The foot-operated drill he used during W.W.II was later given to a friend to polish gemstones. By modern standards, it would be considered "stone age." I thought that you were meaning such things.

    Books from Roman times show that complicated operations were routine, but the scale of dentistry has its own particular challenges. Making a thick drill from flint may be easy, but to make a fine dental drill that won't break before the tooth could be a real challenge.

  • Sad to say... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pedrito ( 94783 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @07:58AM (#15090434)
    In the past 9000 years, the only real advancement in dentistry appears to be the addition of fillings to the procedure. Otherwise, going to the dentist is still pretty much like having a neolithic barbarian bang on your teeth with rocks.
  • Hasnt changed much (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mnmn ( 145599 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @08:46AM (#15090554) Homepage
    You can go to the Qandahari Bazaar of Quetta today, and you'll see dentists lined up on the footpath fixing peoples teeth. There are cars and rickshaws blaring away a few feet away from them. Dentists themselves are stocky muscular dudes in the same traditional dress, shoes taken off sitting on the cloth mat and sometimes with a made-in-china loupe holding boiled metal tools that they sharpen using knife sharpeners or simply ceramic bricks.

    They obtain their tools from the organic waste of hospitals of Karachi which are sold on trolleys in the bazaars there. You see thousands of scalpels and the likes lined up under the sun sold for Rs 5 (10c) or less even to the grand public. Get up real close and in the crevices of the handle you'll notice dried up blood.

    But the dentists DO boil their tools sometimes before your eyes on gas cookers, on the footpath. You'll occasionally hear a moan where a tooth is getting right out... real men dont need anasthetic.

    With my full dental insurance here in Toronto, I still am put on long holds, have to fill out way more paperwork, and in the end, its still an italian surgeon who remarkably resembles the Qandahari Bazaar surgeons complete with hairy forearms, who pulls the teeth. Even the tools look the same. So stop pretending we've advanced that much!
  • Oog, the Open Source Caveman -- he could give us a first-hand account of the procedure.
    • Recently deciphered cave painting:

      Today Only! Special Two for one Special:

      You're already in pain, and it's going to get worse before it gets better. So why not get Trepanned [wikipedia.org] while your tooth is extracted?

      "My molars were killing me," said one satisfied customer,"and I'd always wanted to have a hole drilled in my skull, so I said to myself, 'You're going to pass out from unbearable pain anyway, so why not?' Now I get respect like never before. I tell my hunting buddies that I lost my teeth in a fight with a
  • In the Stone Age, at the dawn of human civilization, primitive dentists were forced to use physical drills to grind away tooth decay. This barbaric practice was undoubtedly painful for the patient, who may have had nothing but a local anaesthetic to help them through the procedure.

    (Implied wink)

    But seriously, screw the flying cars, screw the house-cleaning robots... where's my pain-free dentistry? Shouldn't we have something better than drills and shots by now?

    (And yes, I'm terrified of dentists and w
  • by Master of Transhuman ( 597628 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @05:20PM (#15092596) Homepage
    That's my question.

    In my lifetime, dentists have changed the way you're supposed to brush your teeth three times now.

    This isn't rocket science, folks. Try to find a way to get plague off someone's teeth without using C-4, please.

    I suspect dentistry simply isn't trying to solve the problem of tooth decay - there's too much money in not solving it. By now, we should have a simple chemical that spread on the teeth should remove bacteria and plaque almost instantly and prevent further growth. It's ridiculous.

    I guess I'll have to wait for further development of nanotech - I just hope I have any teeth left by then (OTOH, I'll probably be able to rebuild them with nanotech, anyway.)

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