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400,000-year-old Tartar Gives Us a Glimpse Into the Past

Tartar, caused by dental plaque going untreated and left to harden, is giving Tel Aviv University scientists a glimpse into past diets and pollutants, as they were able to analyze tartar-coated teeth discovered remarkably preserved in Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv.

Once plaque forms into tartar, it is unable to be removed except through the use of cleanings by your friendly Valencia dentist, or by using ultrasonic tools. Unfortunately, these tools were not available 400,000 years ago. However, scientists and researchers have used their to their advantage – they analyzed the tartar left on teeth discovered inside Qesem Cave, and were able to determine what kinds of food they ate back then, and also noticed traces of pollution.

In the tartar, scientists found traces of essential fatty acids, hinting at the ingestion of nuts and seeds. They also found traces of starch, which likely meant that they had some plants in their diet. But the largest portion of their diet was meat.

With such a large consumption of meat, these humans discovered ways to cook it. They created indoor barbecues, of sorts. However, with the use of charcoal inside, they also created something never before seen: airborne pollution. Scientists found traces of charcoal in their tartar, hinting that the smoke from the fire had been inhaled.

Scientists also found one other thing: small plant fibers, hinting at the use of small plants as toothpicks after their tasty barbecue.

Don’t want your teeth and dental tartar to be studied as a time capsule in 400,000 years? Be sure to stop by your friendly Valencia dentist today to get a cleaning.