Dental Tartar Used To Analyze Air Pollution

air pollution texas photo
Photo by Wesley Fryer
Possibly the first manmade earth pollution was discovered at Tel Aviv Universities excavation site Qesem Cave. Researchers discovered human teeth that date back to the lower Paleolithic period approximately 400,000 years ago. Since six-month dental cleanings to remove tartar did not exist at the time, the teeth yielded undiscovered findings. The build up of plaque on human teeth results in hardened calculus or tartar. Once formed, it takes specific dental instruments and ultrasonic tools to remove it.

The cave remained sealed off for nearly 200,000 years, which left the discoveries well preserved. While the teeth are a significant discovery, the build-up of tartar and calculus on them is perhaps the first evidence of health related issues caused from air pollution. The inside fires along with items used to control it is possibly the first air pollution on the planet.

Pollution Captured in Calculus

The study of tartar and calculus on the teeth produced three major factors from the era. It is the first evidence that inside air pollution has an adverse effect on humans. Researchers already know that pre-historic humans had a meat rich diet. Charcoal found in the tarter suggests that the inhalation of smoke from the daily indoor fires used to cook the meat were a respiratory irritant.

Particles in the calculus revealed that along with meat, the people included plenty of plants in their diet. Partially due to nuts and seeds, traces of starch and essential fatty acids showed up in the tartar. Plant fibers of raw materials found on the teeth suggests that even humans 400,000 years ago used some form of toothpicks.

The oldest known studies before those discovered at Qesem Cave are of the Neanderthals. The human remains found at Cave El Sidron in Spain dated to around 45,000 years ago. Tel Aviv University scientists along with colleagues from the United Kingdom, Australia and Spain believe Cave Qesem yielded the oldest known teeth where researchers studied the dental tartar.

Tartar on Teeth Revealed Information

Due to the age of the tartar on the teeth, scientists suspected studies would not reveal much new information. The sealed cave acted as a natural preservation. It kept the teeth and plaque largely in tact. Tel Aviv University took advantage of an international team of researchers that provided more ways to study the findings. The results provided much more information than the team originally expected. The study revealed a new understanding of how pre-historic humans hunted, gathered and ate their food.

The team of researchers includes Professor Les Copeland, Professor Ran Barkai, Professor Karen Hardy and Professor Avi Gopher. Doctors Stephen Buckley and Rachel Sarig participated in the study along with Anita Radini. The solid evidence provides new information about diet and air quality of the period. The group published their findings in the Quaternary International.

Dan Matthews DDS
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