Dr. Per-Ingvar Brånemark, who pioneered the development of the modern dental implant, died on December 20 in Gothenburg, Sweden, at the age of 85.

A Long and Winding Road

As with many innovators, Dr. Brånemark started researching a very different problem from the one he ended up solving. While investigating the impact of blood flow on bone healing, Dr. Brånemark and his colleagues placed optical devices into rabbits to study bone healing. But when they tried to remove the devices, they found that the titanium coating of the devices had been integrated into the bone. Dr. Brånemark called this process “osseointegration,” and he realized that it could be used to fuse artificial structures with bones, including artificial tooth roots.

Dr. Brånemark then began experiments to confirm that titanium was safe, and he placed titanium implements in the arms of about 20 young men working in his lab. According to a man who worked there at the time–who only escaped this fate because he argued that he should be a control while his brother was implanted–every man working in the lab was considered a volunteer for this purpose.

Unfortunately, others were not so convinced about the potential of Dr. Brånemark’s discovery.

Fighting Conventional Wisdom and Bad Precedents

For many years, Dr. Brånemark sought funding for his dental implants project, but he was repeatedly turned down. Part of the reason why people were reluctant to fund Dr. Brånemark is that conventional wisdom dictated that foreign material introduced into the body would cause inflammation and rejection. This had been borne out by numerous attempts at, among other things, dental implants, which had failed, causing significant damage and chronic pain for patients. 

(Incidentally, this is why Dr. Brånemark never liked the term “dental implants.” He didn’t like having his device lumped with those previous failures and preferred to call his device “fixtures” because of the way they were fixed in the bone.)

It was many years before the US National Institutes of Health funded Dr. Brånemark’s experiments. His first patient, in the 1960s, was a man with a cleft palate and deformed jaw, who had no teeth in his lower jaw and had difficulty even wearing dentures. Dr. Brånemark placed four dental implants in the man’s jaw, allowing him to wear a denture. The implants remained functional until the man’s death four decades later.

In the mid 1970s, Dr. Brånemark’s work began to receive attention, and Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare approved his dental implants. Then in 1982, he gave his first international talk to a global audience ready to accept his insights. And thus began the modern era of implant dentistry. 

Although Dr. Brånemark has passed, his legacy lives on, and we are proud to offer dental implants to our patients. If you are looking for dental implants in Orange County, please call (949) 551-5902 for an appointment with an implant dentist at Rice Dentistry in Irvine.