Mayan tooth inlays may have improved dental health

I’ve been a bit concerned with dental health and tooth abscesses and the like in recent months after developing one myself back in March. The pain! I finally had the troublesome tooth removed last week (more pain, which is why I wasn’t on air last week) so anything along those lines is interesting to me.

I will go to the dentist only when strictly necessary but when a member of Mayan society went to the dentist, it was different: holes were drilled in living teeth to inlay jade and gold (the unimaginable, non-anaesthetised pain).

But this wasn’t just for the elites, it seems that everyone across society did this.

It seems that this practice wasn’t just for aesthetics. The powerful sealant used to bind the precious stones and metals to the teeth may have also reduced the risk of oral infections and improved dental health. 

A recent study looked at these inlays from eight teeth dating from the 1st millennia CE found in modern-day Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize. They found that it was not only super strong, but also contained molecules that were probably anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal.

The sealant was composed of around 150 organic molecules that are commonly found in plant resins. One of these compounds is sclareolide, a natural product derived from Salvia plants that is known to have antibacterial properties. Another is camphor, a waxy solid that can be applied topically to treat bug bites and skin irritation. Even today, you can find camphor in a variety of skincare lotions and bath products due to its soothing properties. 

Interestingly though, they didn’t use their dental skills to fix tooth decay once it had started. Even children as young as two had cavities. They just seem to have been more concerned with making their teeth beautiful rather than functional.

Sources: Fancy Ancient Maya Tooth Jewelry May Have Helped Ward Off Oral Infections Too and What Jewel Injays Teaches Us About Mayan Cosmetic Dentists

I talked about this with Danny Hoyland on West Bremer Radio on 28 May 2022. Listen live each week: Saturday 7.40 am, West Bremer Radio.

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