Dental Implants – Why They Work

Dental implants have skyrocketed in popularity recently because of dramatic improvements in success rates and the level of restorative tooth function they can provide. Like most revolutionizing medical and dental advances, dental implants have a long history over which time their viability has continued to increase. Only in the last couple of decades has their reliability really skyrocketed as demonstrated in clinical studies. This article outlines why today’s implants are so much more successful and what factors contribute to the success. See how dental implants are placed for an overview of the process and illustrative images of implant components best advanced dental.

Early Evidence of Dental Implants – Low Success

In the 1930’s, an excavation of the remains of a young Mayan woman, believed to date back to about 600 AD, revealed some of the first-known evidence of dental implants. Actually, these implants were initially believed to have been placed for adornment after the young woman’s death – a practice that was quite common in ancient Egypt. It was 1970 before a Brazilian professor used radiography to provide evidence that the Mayan woman’s dental implants (made of seashells) were placed before her death. The x-rays showed that bone had regenerated around two of the three implants. The scarcity of similar artifacts suggest a very low success rate at that time, although the Mayan culture was certainly noted for its advances and achievements. Little was likely known about why those dental implants worked (and why most others did not).

Experimentation Continued – Successes Not Well Understood

Heavy experimentation in dental implants occurred in the 19th century. Gold and platinum were the materials typically used, and implants were frequently placed immediately after an extraction. By that time, the 18th century attempts to implant human teeth had already provided evidence that the human body would reject someone else’s teeth. Even the 19th century implants that were initially successful didn’t seem to last.

An Accidental 20th Century Breakthrough Provides Important Clues

The revolutionary advances in dental implants began in the 1950s when Swedish orthopedic surgeon Dr. P.I. Brånemark was performing research on bone regeneration and healing. He was studying the process by using optical chambers made of titanium that were screwed into bone. After making observations for a few months, he discovered that the (costly) optical chambers could not readily be removed for reuse because bone had formed and hardened around the titanium screws. Brånemark branched out of his “standard” field to study the exciting implications for implant dentistry, especially since the results (in the mouth) were more readily suited for clinical observation. (Today, of course, titanium implants are also very important in successful joint replacements and prosthetics.)

Brånemark and his team coined the term osseointegration to describe the successful structural and functional connection between living bone tissue and an artificial load-bearing implant. While his first titanium dental implants were successfully placed into a human volunteer in 1965, many years of intense research followed. It was not until 1982, when Brånemark presented his scientific data to the Toronto Conference on Osseointegration in Clinical Dentistry, that a significant turning point occurred in the acceptance and understanding of successes with titanium dental implants.

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