Archeologists Unearth 400-year-old Dental Prosthesis

Accounts of such devices existed in the historical record, but this is the first confirmed discovery of one.

An archeological dig at a monastery in Tuscany unearthed a surprising dental discovery: a 17th-century prosthesis.

Italian researchers published a study on the dental appliance in the November issue of Clinical Implant Dentistry.

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Researchers say they discovered the appliance, among other human remains, while excavating a tomb at the Saint Francesco Monastery at Lucca. The tomb belonged to a well-to-do family by the name of Guinigi. The Guinigi, the study says, ruled Lucca from 1392 to 1429. Researchers were unable to pinpoint the exact age of the dental prosthesis, but the estimate it to be an artifact of the 17th century, based on the approximate age of objects found on the same layer within the tomb.

What makes this device so remarkable, researchers say, is the way it is assembled. explains that the device incorporated 5 human teeth, “3 central incisors and 2 lateral canines aligned in the incorrect anatomical sequence.” A gold-alloy band was used to link the teeth together. A slot was cut longitudinally into the bottom of each tooth, allowing them to sit on the gold band. Gold-alloy pins anchor each tooth to the band. You can see photos of the device, as well as CT scan images here.

What makes this find so significant, researchers say, is that it confirms accounts of “gold band technology for the replacement of missing teeth.” Up until now, now examples of the technology had been found. notes that dental pioneer Pierre Fauchard had described such devices in his accounts.

Lead researcher Simona Minozzi, PhD, told, “This is the first archaeological evidence of a dental prosthesis using gold band technology for the replacement of missing teeth.”