Neanderthals Used a Toothpick Too

After a satisfying meal, these little sticks called a toothpick become our companion. After all, they ensure that our smile will not embarrass us with food particles stuck between our teeth.

However, toothpicks are certainly not modern inventions.

History of Toothpicks

Toothpicks are one of the oldest oral hygiene inventions and have been used throughout history. In China, a bronze pendant was worn around the neck and used as a toothpick. The Chinese also instructed their armies to use toothpicks to control bad breath.

The United States attributed the success of the American toothpick industry to 19th-century Bostonian Charles Foster. According to Duke University Professor Henry Petroski, Foster hired Harvard students to demand toothpicks in restaurants. He would then come to the restaurant the next day to sell his wares, a tactic he also used at retail stores.

But Chinese and Americans are not the only toothpick users. Anthropologists have also found evidence from fossilized teeth that suggest that early humans use toothpicks too.

Neanderthals And Toothpicks

A new study published in the Bulletin of the International Association for Paleodontology on the 130,000-year-old Neanderthal teeth may have just proven the existence of primitive dental care. Grooves were present on the teeth that indicate the use of toothpicks.

University of Kansas Professor David Frayer, Croatian Natural History Museum Dr. Davorka Radovčić, and University of Pennsylvania Professor Janet Monge re-examined the items extracted from a cave in Krapina, Croatia between 1899 and 1905.

Frayer then sought the help of dentist Joe Gatti for professional, clinical interpretation of their findings. Through studying four Neanderthal teeth under a microscope, they saw interesting marks on the yellowish teeth.

They saw grooves consistent with the use of toothpicks. Occlusal wear, the loss of material from the rubbing of teeth against one another, was also present.

According to Frayer, “The scratches indicate this individual was pushing something into his or her mouth to get at that twisted premolar.” The shape and alignment of the scratches also imply that the Neanderthal was pushing something into his or her mouth.

However, the pair were unable to accurately identify what the Neanderthals use as toothpicks, but Frayer suggests that it may be bits of bone or pieces of grass as possibilities.

Similar grooves were also present on the teeth of other human species, dating back 1.8 million years. But grooves from the Neanderthal teeth were much deeper, suggesting compelling evidence that these archaic humans respond to toothaches.

The specimen had an impacted moral or a tooth that failed to emerge in the correct position. Fractured cusps were also seen. According to Gatti in the same interview, the wear patterns on the teeth were not different from present-age men.

Through time, teeth have proven their use in the understanding of early human beings, their life, and their environment. As the evolutionary biologist, Dr. Alistair Evans of Monsah University mentions, “Teeth can tell us a lot about the lives of our ancestors, and how they evolved over the last seven million years.”

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