As long as people have had teeth, they have needed some basic form of dental care. Although preventative dentistry as we think of it today is a much newer concept, restorative dentistry goes a long way back. No matter how rudimentary or ancient, people have been trying to fix and fill up their teeth with materials to plug holes and fill cavities.
The Oldest Fillings
The oldest fillings have been found in Pakistan in the molars of a skeleton that is somewhere around 7500-9500 years old. A little more recently, in 6500, a man in his 20s hurt his tooth using them as tools. The resulting hole was filled with beeswax after his death. While it is uncertain why his tooth would be filled after he died, it is clear that dental restorations were a part of the ancient culture of the world. It is safe to assume that most fillings at that time were made from beeswax—or at least another safe but pliable and malleable substance.
The Beginning of Modern Dentistry
What we think of as modern dentistry didn’t start until the 1800s. During this time, metal was starting to be used to fill teeth. It didn’t matter what type of metal it was, as long as it could be softened enough to stick in the tooth. If you were poorer, you would probably choose a cheaper metal like tin. If you were rich, gold and silver were your toothy prizes.
As technology improved throughout the 19th century, dental amalgams were invented and introduced. A mixture of various metals including tin, silver, copper, and mercury, these worked very well for fillings. However, it soon became apparent that the mercury in the amalgrams was harmful to everyone’s health. If you had a filling, you could easily develop cancer, multiple sclerosis, or a number of other conditions thanks to the mercury inside them. Since then, mercury has been banned, and much more care has been taken to ensure the safety of all patients.
Today, we have a variety of materials available to us for dental fillings. Luckily, they are all healthy—no mercury (or at least very minimal amounts). Even luckier, many of them are cosmetic and blend in with the natural color of your teeth. We’ve come along way from that early beeswax.