The newly described remains of a woman excavated in central Mexico is notable because it gives us a glimpse into the techniques of cosmetic dentistry in place over 1600 years ago. She was not only granted with tooth jewelry on her upper teeth, she had a kind of dental implant in her lower teeth.
This woman, who is described as a noblewoman, certainly had a lot of work done, for she also had her forehead shaped according to the local standards of beauty at the time.
Tooth Bling in the City of Gods
The woman was excavated from the site of the ancient city of Teotihuacan, about 30 miles north of Mexico City. The name of the city means, “the place where men become gods,” but it wasn’t just locals who might have benefited from this apotheosis, as the woman in question was known to be from elsewhere.
How did archaeologists know she was from elsewhere? Partly because of her teeth. The woman had two pyrite gemstones in her upper teeth. This custom was common among the Maya, who lived several hundred miles to the south, occupying the jungles of Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala.
And there’s no wonder why the woman would have come to the city, which at the time was one of the largest cities in the world, with perhaps 100,000 residents.
But why would she have been encouraged to come? Perhaps because of her exotic beauty. Not only did she have the pyrite stones (fool’s gold) in her upper teeth, but she also had a tooth replacement in the lower jaw, a kind of primitive dental implant, one of the earliest examples of such an attempt to restore a lost tooth. The prosthetic lower tooth was made of serpentine, a green stone with a dramatic marbled pattern.
However, this wasn’t her only lost tooth. She was also missing her upper lateral incisors, which should have flanked the teeth with the pyrite gems.
Cosmetic Head Shaping
The woman also benefitted from cosmetic procedures performed on her head. These procedures, known as skull compression. Her head was bound to a board as a child when it was most malleable to give it an elongated shape. Researchers say that this is one of the more extreme examples of head reshaping that they’ve seen.
Interviews with Maya showed that this was done because the gods had instructed them that this would make them look more noble and would help them to deal with the challenges of life.
Some Things Never Change
We have rejected gemstones in teeth in favor of natural-looking porcelain veneers, and we also strive to make dental crowns on implants as natural as possible, but we still agree with the Maya on the importance of an attractive smile.
If you are looking to go far in this life–as this woman did so long ago–there are few assets quite so valuable as an attractive smile.