Ever wonder how cavemen cleaned their teeth? Before toothbrushes and carefully developed toothpastes that take millions of dollars and a team of researchers to formulate, before fluoridation of drinking water, what tools did cavemen use to clean their teeth? How did they maintain oral hygiene, or were they just cursed with rotten, nasty teeth? Here are some pointers to help us figure it out.
Tools of the trade
The prestigious archaeological journal PLOS ONE has a few articles on this matter. For instance, they aired on a few years ago in which the perfect teeth of Neanderthals were admired and stipulated upon. One jawbone saw damage or marks that were made by a process that we call palliative dentistry. This is dentistry that can be done by the individual, and is done by some kind of simple tool, like a stick, or a toothbrush, and involves removing things from the teeth. This means that Neanderthals, and thus, presumably, other early humans, knew about cleaning their teeth, and engaged it regularly, or at least, regularly enough to leave marks on the jawbones. This is one of the secrets to why Neanderthal teeth were so incredibly good, and why their oral fauna is so incredibly diverse and healthy. But there is another reason, too.
Diet is an important factor
Neanderthals did not have cavities because they ate virtually no sugars and no carbs. In the wild, mostly plants have carbs, and only in very little amounts. Our carbs come from sugars and grains, which need cultivation and the type of are that only sedentary lifestyles can provide. Since Neanderthals hunted, foraged and starved, they came across little to no carbs. They ate meat very infrequently, and survived on foraging for berries and fruits, for the most part. This meant less cavities and less need of cleaning habits.
The current archaeological data and our understanding of the facts point to a picture of good dentition in early humans, with a very diverse bacterial flora, intact teeth upon death, and very little cases of tooth decay. This does not mean they led better lives: they starved and died in their thirties, but at least had nice teeth.