By Alison Majikes/Special to

Most people visit the dentist twice each year to keep their pearly whites clean and healthy, but what happened for those who lived 400,000 years ago when dentists weren’t on call for those checkups?

According to an article published on, that’s the exact question for which  Tel Aviv University set out to find out the answer, along with scholars from Spain, the U.K. and Australia.

Researchers* have uncovered evidence that food and potential respiratory irritants were entrapped in the dental calculus of 400,000-year-old teeth at the Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv (Shown above, human teeth from Qesem Cave. Credit: Prof. Israel Hershkovitz, Tel Aviv University), which has been the site of many notable discoveries from the late Lower Paleolithic period.

Possible respiratory irritants include traces of charcoal that were found in the dental calculus that may have resulted from smoke inhalation from indoor fires used for roasting meat everyday.

According to the study, this is the earliest direct evidence of inhaled environmental pollution that has had an adverse effect on the health of early humans.

“Humans teeth of this age have never been studied before for dental calculus, and we had very low expectations because of the age of the plaque,” said Prof. Avi Gopher of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations. “However,  our international collaborators, using a combination of methods, found many materials entrapped within the calculus. Because the cave was sealed for 200,000 years, everything including the teeth and its calculus were preserved exceedingly well.”

To read the entire article about the 400,000 year old teeth:

While there were no ultrasonic scalers to remove the calculus back then, today’s patients can benefit from such tools. One, Benco Dental’s iris ultrasonic scaler, is used in dental offices today to get the most effective results.

And to find out more about the Iris Ultrasonic Scaler and all of the other quality dental items Benco Dental offers, visit or call 1-800-GOBENCO to speak with your friendly Benco rep!

*Prof. Karen Hardy of ICREA at the University of Autonoma, Barcelona, Spain led the research efforts on this project along with Prof. Ran Barkai and Prof. Avi Gopher of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations, in collaboration with Dr. Rachel Sarig of TAU’s School of Dental Medicine, Dr. Stephen Buckley of the University of York, Anita Radini of the University of York and the University of Leicester, U.K. and Prof. Les Copeland of the University of Sydney, Australia.