Research has shown that the Maya did not eat sugar and were accustomed to washing their mouths after meals. However, they did have dental cavities from earliest times.
This was due to a relatively bland diet, rich in carbohydrates and poor in proteins, according to the book Brief History of the Odontology in Mexico, by Dr. Antonio Zimbrón Levy.
This author indicates, as well, that the study of bone tissues — in the jaw and elsewhere – suggests the preponderance of parodontitis (inflammation of the tissue around the teeth) among the Maya due to a lack of Vitamin C.
During the prehispanic era, they practiced two types of interventions: filing and inlays. According to various sources, the oldest was the filing of the edges of the upper incisives.
On this topic, Fray Diego de Landa (1524-1579) in the “Relación de las Cosas de Yucatán,” explains that they had the custom of sawing the teeth into sharp points, administered by the elder women who used stones and water.
Thanks to the studies by Dr. Samuel Fastlicht (1902-1983), it is known that in the golden age of the Maya culture, the 8th and 9th centuries, the art of dental inlays reached an astounding perfection, with instruments made from wood, obsidian, and other stones, rather than metal.
The cavity was opened with a rudimentary drill, using quartz as the abrasive. The inlay was jade, hematite (known as the blood stone), turquoise, quartz, cinnabar, or iron pyrite. Finally, they fixed the inlay in place with a perfect adjustment of the cavity, for which, according to Dr. Fastlicht, they used a cement made from calcium phosphate.
Everything seems to indicate, according to Dr. Antonio Zimbrón Levy, that this dental cement didn’t have better adhesive qualities than those used today, and notes that the inlay was attached to the cavity by means of mechanical force caused by the adjustments, rather than by chemical adherence qualities.
In order to reach these conclusions, the discovery of a large number of dental pieces with various sizes and inlays, in a cemetery on the island of Jaina, off the coast of Campeche, was very important.
By: Yurina Fernández Noa
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