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Mayan tooth

One of the oldest items in our collection this beautifully adorned Mayan tooth shows their civilization had considerable dental skills.


The Mayans

The Mayan civilization occupied a vast area covering south-east Mexico and the Central American countries of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. Mayan culture began to develop in the pre-Classic period, around 1000 BC and was at its height between AD 300 and 900.


Their society consisted of many independent states, each with a rural farming community and large urban sites built around ceremonial centres. They built elaborate and highly-decorated ceremonial architecture, including temple-pyramids, palaces and observatories.


Dental skills

The Mayans had highly developed dental skills, not acquired for oral health or personal adornment but probably for ritual or religious purposes.

They were able to place carved stone inlays into prepared cavities in live front teeth. A round copper tube similar in shape to a drinking straw was spun between the hands or in a rope drill, with a  slurry of powdered quartz in water as the abrasive, cutting a round hole through the enamel. The stone inlay was ground to fit exactly into the cavity. These inlays were made of a variety of minerals of beautiful colours, including jadeite, iron pyrites, hematite, turquoise, quartz, serpentine and cinnabar.

In Mexico City Museum complete skulls can be seen with all the front teeth having colourful inlays. 


 Mayan tooth with gem stone insert, c. AD 800

BDA Museum: dental heritage

The BDA Museum has one of the largest collections of dental heritage in the UK. Spanning the 17th century to the present day, highlights of the collection include dental chairs, drills, oral hygiene products, and the infamous 'Waterloo' teeth. Pop in and see for yourself!