Neanderthals are our closes relatives, sharing 99.7% of our DNAs. We know that they used tools to hunt prey, defend predators, and thrive in their environments. Now, a study published in the Bulletin of the International Association for Paleodontology shows that Neanderthals also used tools to perform "prehistoric dentistry".
Researchers studied the remains of a 130,000 year-old Croatian Neanderthal and found that there is "definitive” evidence that the teeth are scraped with a toothpick. The four loose teeth are assumed to be from just one person, which the researchers dubbed Krapina Dental Person 20, and was excavated from a site in Krapina, Croatia more than a hundred years ago.
The researchers observed that the teeth had clear grooves made by a prehistoric toothpick, along with scratches in the dentin and the enamel. But scientists have long known how grooves of the teeth in prehistoric humans are actually nothing special. What separates the teeth in this study, of which the researchers called the teeth of the Neanderthal Krapina Dental Person 20 or KDP 20, is that one of the missing teeth was probably set differently in the lower jaw.
“The scratches indicate this individual was pushing something into his or her mouth to get at that twisted premolar,” says David Frayer, an anthropologist from the University of Kansas and lead author of the study. They also observed that other types of tooth manipulation are present.
Paleodontologists, scientists who study ancient teeth, know that early hominids have been using toothpicks. However, the reasons for using there are uncertain. Some theories suggested that they used it to reduce pain, by removing pieces stuck between the teeth, others theorized that early homonids used it to promote "fibre processing and saliva jetting”. “Yet, they also occur with no signs of oral pathology, so they may be idiosyncratic, the product of a nervous behavior," the authors write in their study.
This is the first time that ancient teeth had markings and signs of abnormality and has carried it till today. This shows that Neanderthals used tools to relieve toothaches. Frayer says, “Because the toothpick grooves, whether they are made by bones or grass stems or who knows what, the scratches and chips in the teeth, they show us that Neanderthals were doing something inside their mouths to treat the dental irritation. Or at least this one was.”