The Mayans didn’t say. It might have been a combination of all of these factors, or it might have been something no one has thought of yet. Maybe it started with toothworms and got elevated to simple decorations that folks just had to have.
It’s not unusual for Mayan skulls to retain their inlays even after being buried for a millennium. So how was it managed without modern dental tools or dental cement?
The answer is with great skill. It was an intense process to carve out the hole for a dental inlay. Round sticks or pieces of horn were either heated in fires or tipped in quartz dust depending on where you were at, and then using the hands or a rope the stick was spun at high speed to carve a hole.
The most common materials to use for the inlays were jade, pyrite, hematite and turquoise. The inlays tended to be about 3mm in diameter and were very thin. They matched the size of the hole drilled in the tooth precisely, and, according to The Dental Cosmos, edited by J. D. White, no cementing materials were detectable. In other words, it was done the way that the Mayan’s incredible stonework was done, so precisely that it was a perfect fit.
Tooth inlays were most popular for a two hundred year window, from about 700 CE to about 900 CE. They trailed off among men first, and eventually fell out of favor with women as well.
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