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Ancient Mayans Used Gemstones to Protect Their Teeth

by Coffee Table Science

Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The Mayans, who adorned their teeth with colourful gemstones made of jade and turquoise, may teach modern dentistry a thing or two. The stones were not just for show. According to a recent research, the ancient people’s glue for affixing the stones may have had medicinal advantages.

Some of the sealants possessed antimicrobial qualities, according to research headed by Gloria Hernández Bolio of Cinvestav, Mexico.

The scientist and her colleagues from the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Harvard University, and Brown University examined the sealants in eight teeth discovered at Maya burial sites dating from 200 to 900 C.E.

They discovered 150 chemical compounds in the samples that are often present in plant resins and are utilized for water repellent and glue-like qualities. Mesoamericans thought that their breath was a conduit to the divine, therefore they polished and filled their teeth to ‘purify’ it.

Image: Eight Ancient Maya teeth were analysed in the study that found the sealant used to affix the gemstones had antibacterial and antifungal properties

Before affixing gemstones with a strong sealant, their dentists would drill holes through the enamel and into the dentine. Inorganic compounds akin to cement and hydroxyapatite, a mineral derived from pulverized teeth and bones, were discovered in previous investigations of the adhesive in 1971.

These aided in the strength of the glue but did not add any stickiness. Many of the sealants that adhered to the jade, turquoise, or pyrite stones contained components from pine trees, according to Hernández-Bolio.

According to research, pine tree extract can combat germs that cause tooth decay, and it may have aided the ancient peoples of what is now Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico in maintaining their oral health. Sclareolide, a chemical found in Salvia plants that has antibacterial and antifungal effects, was detected in two of the teeth.

Sclareolide is now employed as an aroma fixative in perfumes, although it was once advertised as a weight-loss supplement in the past. The investigators discovered that the composition of the sealants differed depending on where they were applied, implying that local practitioners established their own formulas.

Essential oils from mint plants were found in stone adhesives from the outer Copán region, near the Honduran-Guatemala border. These essential oils may have anti-inflammatory properties.

These herbs are still used for medical purposes by Maya people today, thus the ancients may have been aware of their properties.

Kinich Janaab Pakal, the Maya monarch of Palenque, is reported to have died at the age of 80 in 612 C.E. with all of his teeth intact and no symptoms of decay. The gnashers discovered in his grave in southern Mexico, on the other hand, were in such good shape that they may have belonged to a guy 40 years younger.

As a result, some have questioned whether the bones in the tomb are indeed his. Others, however, believe that his teeth naturally wore down less because the monarch had access to softer, less abrasive food than the typical person.

Vera Tiesler, a bioarcheologist and co-author, feels it might also be a testimonial to the Mayans’ exceptional tooth hygiene.

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