When rich Romans lost teeth, they improved their smiles with removable dental prostheses that attached with gold wires. But near the end of the first century A.D., a Gallic farmer with a strong tolerance for pain chose a more permanent fix. In this week's Nature, French anthropologists describe a skeleton of a 30-year-old man with an iron tooth hammered into his jaw.
The tooth, although rusty, was complete and firmly attached to the jaw bone, reports Pascal Murail of the CNRS Anthropology Laboratory in Talence, France. "We had to use force to extract it," he says. After the tooth was driven into a socket, the bone grew around it in a process called ossointegration. "The pseudo-root of the false tooth fills almost entirely the socket," says Murail. That recovery was probably aided by the farmer--understandably--not chewing with the tooth.
Despite the successful implantation, the dental work may have backfired. By his death, the man had lost almost all of his other teeth, and dental specialists say that the implantation might have contributed to his toothless state by exacerbating gum disease. One thing is certain: The dentist didn't win many customers--none of the other 500 skeletons in the Gallo-Roman burial site at Chantambre, in Essonne, France have iron teeth, even though tooth loss was common.