History Of Dental Implants

Recent history informs us that modern dental implants are extraordinarily successful. A large body of sound scientific research and decades of clinical use have verified and validated their usefulness in replacing missing teeth. Modern dental implants have been in use since the 1970s. Since that time they have undergone many improvements in design, but always with a variation on the same theme.

Even early civilizations recognized the benefit of tooth replacement with different kinds of implants. Dental implants have been tried almost since humans have been using technology. They date back hundreds if not thousands of years — with varying degrees of success. The earliest attempts at dental implant tooth replacements on record were discovered in the Mayan civilization dating back to 600 A.D. Archeologists have recovered ancient skulls in which teeth were replaced by materials ranging from carved stones, such as jade, to fragments of seashells. Despite primitive methods and materials, some of these early implants actually fused to the jawbone.

As with many scientific advances, the discovery of what makes current dental implants successful was serendipitous. In 1952, an orthopedic surgeon noted that he could not remove a small titanium cylinder he had placed in a bone to study how bone healed. The special property that titanium has of fusing to bone, called osseointegration (“osseo” – bone; “integration” – fusion or joining with), is the biological basis of modern implants’ success.

Dental implants were first introduced for people who had lost all of their teeth and who had great difficulty stabilizing or tolerating dentures, largely because they had lost so much of the jawbone upon which dentures rest. It was well known even then that osseointegration is best in dense bone, generally in the front part of the lower jaw.

Today most implants are used to replace either single or multiple missing teeth. The implants first used in the pioneering system were basically a one-size-fits-all design. The original implants were all the same width (circumference) with only the length being variable. The original surfaces of the implants were machined smooth and polished.

Modern implants come in a variety of shapes and sizes to suit the different teeth they replace, and for the types of prosthetic (false) teeth they will replace. Their surfaces have been improved to enhance the osseointegration process. Instead of being smooth or machined, they are generally roughened by sandblasting and acid etching, which dramatically increases the surface area to which bone can attach.


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