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.
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).
inflammation of the gums
The research showed that the remains had maxillary porosity, characteristic of periodontal disease and alveolar bone loss (where the teeth are inserted), with a bone mass reduction of four to eight millimeters exposing the roots of the teeth, usually inside the alveoli.
The article "Toothpicking and periodontal disease in a Neanderthal specimen from site Cova Foradà (Valencia, Spain)," was published by PLOS ONE, on October 16. It was authored by Marina Lozano, Carlos Lorenzo and Gala Gomez of the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana I Evolució Social), in collaboration with Maria Eulalia Subirà, Biological Anthropology professor and researcher at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), and José Aparicio of the Diputació Provincial de València.
Marina Lozano said: "This individual attempted to alleviate the discomfort caused by periodontal disease. This disease usually causes bloody and inflamed gums, so the systematic use of toothpicks could mitigate sore gums."