Neanderthals, Like Ancient Humans, Used Toothpicks to Alleviate Tooth Pain
When you go to a restaurant, you can often find toothpicks lurking next to the tray of mints. These simple pieces of wood aren't just a modern convention, though; they've been used for millions of years by even our ancient ancestors in order to help with oral hygiene. Now, though, researchers have discovered humans weren't the only ones who used toothpicks in the distant past. It turns out that Neanderthals also used toothpicks to mitigate pain caused by oral diseases such as inflammation of the gums.
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When you think of Neanderthals, you don't normally think of them using toothpicks. But it turns out they did exactly that. Archaeologists discovered Neanderthal teeth related to periodontal disease that had marks that were clear signs of tooth picking. In fact, the fossil remains had maxillary porosity, characteristic of periodontal disease and alveolar bone loss, with a bone mass reduction of four to eight millimeters.
"This individual attempted to alleviate the discomfort caused by periodontal disease," said Marine Lozano, one of the researchers, in a news release. "This disease usually causes bloody and inflamed gums, so the systematic use of toothpicks could mitigate sore gums."
There are many examples of grooves caused by toothpicking between Neanderthals. However, they're not usually associated with any type of dental disease. In this case, though, the toothpick wasn't only used as a primitive method of dental hygiene; it was also associated with a dental disease and with the clear intention to alleviate the pain, which makes this particular finding unusual.
In fact, the discovery means that the researchers now have one of the first examples of palliative treatment with toothpicks.
"This study is a step to characterize the Neanderthals as a species with a wide range of adaptations to their environment and wide resources even in the field of palliative medicine," said Lozano in a news release.
The findings reveal a little bit more about the behaviors of these ancient Neanderthals. More specifically, it shows that not only humans engaged in these types of actions when it came to oral hygiene.
The findings are published in the journal PLOS One.