image of things used for cavity filliings, tree sap, gold, rock chips,,mercury, superglue

Which of These 5 Weird Things Have Been Used For Tooth Fillings?
Courtesy of Craig Sommer DDS at

Bits of Stone, Tree Sap and Many Other Things Have Been Used As Cavity Fillings Throughout History

Each has been used with varying degrees of success. The healers of their time were on the right track back then, from my perspective, but the materials used changed drastically over time. The ancients, however, were not the only ones that used curious materials for treating cavities.

Why are tooth fillings necessary? Cavities. Cavities destroy teeth. If you can stop cavities you can stop pain and keep your teeth. Even early man had problems with cavities, though not as many as we experience today on a “modern” diet.

Tooth Worms Are In

In ancient Sumeria 5000 B.C they thought that “tooth worms” were the cause of the holes in teeth. It makes sense if you observed bugs and larva on plants. And it’s why you check your apples for holes before you eat them.

Let’s start with ancient man living on the coast in the middle east and his need for tooth fillings. Then we will look at dental fillings through the ages and we will finish with dentistry’s fave, toxic mercury amalgams.

Ancient Man Had Cavities Too!

Excavated skeletal remains from 4000 B.C. on the Arabian Gulf, showed families living on mostly meat, fish and dairy had far fewer cavities than groups who’s diets included fruits and grains centuries later.

Individuals with cavities numbered only 3 in 100 and the need for tooth fillings was small. But as diet changes continued the number jumped over 10 times that amount in communities that added palm dates and grains to their diets. These foods added sugars and starches that would convert to sugars providing ideal foods for cavity producing bacteria. Some skulls revealed missing teeth and holes in jawbones where infections related to cavities persisted for years around tooth roots. It’s too bad they didn’t recognized the connection.

Make a mental note. Nutrition and diet make an enormous impact on the occurrence of cavities. It did thousands of years ago as it does today.

It Hurts So Bad, I Think I’m Going To Die

Imagine you are alive four thousand years B.C. and you’ve got a painful cavity. No dentists to worry about, there aren’t any. You’ll likely suffer for months or years with a painful cavity leading to an infection [abscess], which destroys bone, loosens your tooth to the point it eventually falls out. Perhaps a tribal healer suggests a treatment of rock chips and tree sap to fill your “hole in tooth”, or an as yet undiscovered remedy. Living through that makes you a more rugged individual.

Anthropological evidence shows that people often lived long after they had an abscess that resulted in tooth loss. They just thought, “It hurts so bad, I think I’m going to die.” Usually they were wrong and they recovered without major incident.

The Dark Ages

Fast forward several thousand years into Medieval Europe. Your local barber-surgeon is now the one that will help you with “tooth worms” causing cavities and tooth pain.

How do you take care of “It hurts so bad I think I’m going to die” tooth pain now? Simple. Fill up the holes or dig out the “tooth worms” or remove the whole tooth of course. Not a lot of progress in the last 5000 years.

The removed “tooth worm” was likely the nerve inside the tooth and removing it didn’t always solve the problem. Then a variety of materials were placed into the hole left behind. It provided some relief for a while, when pain was extreme.  In the “modern” era, with a few modifications, we call it a root canal. It’s not an approach I would want to experience.

Gold Adorned Teeth

In 1450 an Italian text described the use of gold leaf pounded into cavities as a filling material. Now your tooth could be adorned with gold, like an antique picture frame, if you had a cavity. It worked in many cases but took hours to do. Finally, it seemed that a reasonable tooth filling solution for cavities was available and the word spread.

In 1532 a similar German dental therapy was described. It was the use of gold “foil” fillings. Gold, prepared by pounding into thin sheets, like aluminum foil, was rolled into small pellets and then “gently hammered” into the cavity holes. Effective, but often only available to the wealthy.

No Fillings Yet For The Masses

Still no safe, effective and inexpensive fillings for the masses yet, so tooth removal was often the most practical solution in the 1500’s. And since no pain deadeners are available yet, your barber-surgeon works quickly while you grip anything available until he’s done. Unfortunately, cavities are likely to be a repeating problem and your love-hate relationship with your barber-surgeon  continues.

Tooth Worms Are Out

In the 1700’s, Dr. Pierre Fauchard, the father of “modern” dentistry, disproved the notion that “tooth worms” were responsible for cavities and tooth pain. His efforts led to dentistry becoming a specialty with dedicated professionals, leaving the barbers to concentrate on other services. His “The Dental Surgeon” book set down for the first time a practical and theoretical scientific foundation for dental surgeons.

Molten Metal-A New Hot Idea

Joseph Fox started the earliest formal dental lectures in Europe. He wrote three books to aid in the education of dental surgeons and the prospects for a more learned profession improved.

Fox also came up with a new hot idea, literally, in the early 1800’s. He used a mixture of bismuth, tin and lead, all relatively low melting point metals. When heated, the mixture could be poured into a cavity and allowed to solidify. The obvious disadvantage was the liquid metal mixture was at the temperature of boiling water when it was poured into the cavity. The technique also posed some difficulty for upper teeth unless you were lying with your head upside down.

It was a cheaper alternative than gold, yes, but it came with the inconvenience of having scalding molten metal being poured into a tooth cavity.

Even though I could not uncover any written testimonials as to the effectiveness of this treatment method, I would venture to guess that it was not very popular.

The First Mercury Silver Teeth Filling In Europe

In 1816, Aguste Taveau developed a paste of silver coin shavings and liquid mercury that was easily manipulated and could be placed in a hole in a tooth hardening within a few minutes at room temperature. This mercury silver mixture is called an amalgam.

After using this treatment on the French, the Crawcour brothers brought this modern miracle material the “Royal Mineral Succedaneum” to the United States in 1833. That’s how they introduced Taveau’s amalgam.

Fillings For The Masses

Goodbye to hours of your mouth propped open to have a gold foil filling hammered into place into cavities. The new fillings were so popular that in 1844, 50% of all dental restorations in Upstate New York were amalgam.

Today, the dental amalgam filling technology is essentially the same as it was in 1816 when coin shavings were mixed with liquid mercury. It was quick, it was inexpensive and the masses were happy.

Questions Of Safety-Mercury EPA Dose Limits Exceeded

Two hundred years later we are virtually using the same material. Where else are we using two hundred year old amalgam fillings technology with toxic mercury as the primary material to treat any other disease? I don’t know. We have been told it is safe and effective, but recent studies are creating more and more suspicion.

Much of our population today is exposed to so much mercury from dental tooth fillings that they exceed maximum daily dosage limits set by state and federal EPA environmental protection agencies.

Currently 181.1 million Americans are walking around with 1.46 billion mercury fillings. Of those 122.3 million Americans are exposed to mercury levels exceeding California EPA’s daily dose limits and 67.2 million Americans exceed the US EPA daily dose limits. That much mercury isn’t helping us stay healthy as a nation.

There are other materials available beside mercury amalgam tooth fillings, also known as silver fillings or amalgams. Other materials are available that do not have the concerns of mercury exposure and it’s inherent safety risks. One example is composite fillings, which are resin or plastic based.

Superglue For Cavities?

And then there are people that will do some really strange things with their teeth.

I met one patient who covered almost all of his teeth with superglue to “protect” them, He added layer after layer over a period of years. They looked hideous and his gums were awful. He was bent on protecting his teeth. Convinced he was doing the right thing, he wanted no suggestions from me.

If you decide to try something odd with your teeth or want to eliminate your exposure to mercury amalgam tooth fillings find a holistic or biological dentist to talk to. Only these dentists are trained to remove mercury containing fillings safely. They will probably also tell you to skip the superglue.
HISTORY OF AMALGAM IN DENTISTRY, Rev. Clín. Pesq. Odontol. 2007 jan/abr;3(1):65-71
Mercury exposure and risks from dental amalgam in the US population  Sci Total Environ. 2011 Sep 15;409(20):4257-68. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2011.06.035. Epub 2011 Jul 22.