The Fascinating History of Dental Implants

history of dental implantsMissing teeth have always been a problem, probably ever since one of our cave-dwelling ancestors chomped down on a particularly tough chunk of meat and lost a molar. Well, around 9,000 years ago, people decided to do something about it. That´s when the history of dental implants starts, as far as we know.  

During excavations in Algeria in 1954, archeologists discovered the skull of a proto-Mediterranean woman that has been dated to around 7,000 years BC. They noticed one of her teeth had been replaced by a dental prosthesis, a small-sized bone such as the bone of a human hand or a mammalian foot. It had been carved and placed in her mouth and fused with the human bone.

Fast forward the clock from here, and we´re in ancient China 4,000 years ago, where carved bamboo pegs were used to replace missing teeth. The ancient Egyptians adopted a similar practice, although they used minerals and precious metals. Archeologists have excavated several ancient Egyptian skulls with artificial and transplanted teeth made from elephant ivory or jade. The upper jawbone of an Egyptian king who lived around 1,000 BC has a copper peg hammered into it, although it is uncertain whether this was done during his life or after death.

In 1931 the archeological team of Dr. Wilson Popenoe and his wife Dorothy Popenoe excavated Mayan ruins in Honduras and discovered the lower jaw of a woman who lived in the sixth century. She had three missing teeth that had been replaced by shells.

But it would be several centuries before the first significant advances in dental implant technology would occur. Here are some of the key milestones in the history of dental implants.

Abulcasis (936-1013), an Arab surgeon from Spain, made dental instruments and prosthetics with ox bones.

Ambroise Paré (1510-1590) was a distinguished barber-surgeon who highlighted the benefits of dental implants and, in one of his treatises, wrote: “A princess who had had a tooth pulled, immediately received another from another young woman. The tooth grew and became solid as before.”

Gold and ivory implants were used during the 16th and 17th centuries.

During the 18th century, researchers experimented with gold and alloys to make dental implants. However, these were not successful.

In 1771 distinguished Scottish surgeon John Hunter transplanted the healthy tooth of a living person into the crest of a rooster. A few months later, when the animal was killed, Hunter observed the tooth had fused to the crest tissue, similar to how a tooth attaches to the gum and sockets.

In 1809 dentist J Maggiolo made gold roots that were placed into fresh extraction sites and attached to crowns. In his book Manuel de L´árt du Dentiste (Manual of the Dentist´s Art), he describes implanting a tooth made of an 18-carat gold alloy.

Titanium was discovered in England by William Gregor in 1791, and nearly a century later, impure titanium was used for dental applications.

In the 1940s Dr. Gustav Dahl developed the subperiosteal implant. This type of implant sits on the jawbone and was later improved by other dentists.

Crucial Advance

One of the most significant advances in the history of dental implants came with the work of Swedish physician Per-Ingvar Brånemark known as the father of modern dental implant technology. He studied osseointegration, the structural and functional connection between living bone and an implant. 

Brånemark put optical devices encased in titanium in the leg bones of rabbits to explore the healing process. When the research project ended, he noticed the bone had integrated so completely with the implant that it couldn´t be removed. He called this discovery osseointegration and, during the 1960s, began testing dental implants in humans. In 1965 the first titanium dental implants were placed inside a patient. They remained intact for more than 40 years

Sponsored by the National Institute of Health and Harvard University, the first Dental Implant Consensus Conference held in 1978 marked the beginning of modern dental implant technology. During this landmark event, dental implant data was analyzed, and participants established standards of implant dentistry.

The Present Day

During the intervening years, techniques for tooth replacements have been improved, as have the surfaces of implants to enhance the osseointegration process. Modern dental implants are made of titanium and come in various shapes and sizes. They’re durable and can last a lifetime with good care.

If you want to know more about dental implants and how they can boost your confidence and improve your oral health and quality of life, schedule a free consultation at Chesterfield Dentistry. Call us on (314) 682-4587 or use our online booking form.