The Earliest Dental Implants

The first example of a dental implant discovered was found in the grave of an Iron Age Celtic woman in France, dating from about 2500 years ago. Although the Egyptians and Etruscans both crafted replacement teeth, these weren’t dental implants. The Egyptian example, the oldest we have, is a purely cosmetic piece that was probably put in the skull to help it appear whole for entering the afterlife. The Etruscan examples are more like dental bridges, which are fastened to neighboring teeth.

But the Celtic example seems like it was probably actually embedded in the bone, similar to modern dental implants. However, we’re not sure whether the dental implant was placed before death or after, and it’s not clear whether it was functional or not.

Experimentation in the Modern Era

As long as people have been losing teeth, we have wanted to replace them, and it’s not a surprise that once we developed scientific medicine, the dental implant was quickly researched. However, things did not go especially well at first.

In 1949, the subperiosteal implant was developed. This implant wasn’t placed in the bone, it was placed under the gum tissue directly against the bone. Posts stuck through the gum tissue for securing to a removable denture. At best, studies showed a 66% survival rate after 20 years (compare that with data about how long dental implants last). At worst, studies showed a 60% survival rate at 10 years and a 50% survival rate at 15 years.

An implant design to try and take advantage of the stability of bone was the transosseous implant. In this implant, a plate was placed below your jawbone, then screws were run through the bone to secure a denture on top. This was an invasive process, required major surgery, and had the potential to result in major complications.

The blade implant was developed to try to secure dental implants in the bone. For this implant, a groove was created in the bone, and the thin plate was placed in the groove. Dental bridges or dentures were then secured to the implant. This implant didn’t integrate with the bone, and although the survival rate could be as high as 80% after five years, there were numerous complications.

The Osseointegration Breakthrough

Osseointegration illustration process infographic

Modern dental implants became possible because of the discovery of osseointegration. In osseointegration, bone grows around a dental implant and holds it in place. This process was discovered accidentally by Dr. Per-Ingvar Brånemark. In 1952, Dr. Brånemark was studying bone healing in rabbits using titanium probes. When it came time to remove the probes, they had fused with the bones.

Dr. Brånemark immediately convinced that this could be used for dental and other bone implants. In mad scientist fashion, he immediately began experimenting on the people working in his lab, although the government wouldn’t recognize or fund his work for a long time. Then in the mid 1960s, Dr. Brånemark placed his first implants in a man with a cleft palate, no teeth in his lower jaw, and other jaw deformities. These integrated with the bone and allowed the man to use dentures for four decades until his death.

Despite this success, it was not until the mid 1980s when Dr. Brånemark’s discovery would be recognized outside his country, and it wasn’t until the late 1980s when dental implants were approved for use in the US.

Metal Free Dental Implants

Partly in response to concerns about metal fillings containing mercury, people have become more and more nervous about the presence of metal in restorations. And even though most people respond well to titanium dental implants, some people do have an allergic response to titanium dental implants. This led to demand for a metal-free dental implant, and recent advances in material science has allowed for the development of one.

CeraRoot is a dental implant made of very strong zirconium oxide. This dental implant can bond directly to an all-ceramic crown, making for a completely metal-free dental implant. It has a success rate about equal to (or slightly better than) titanium dental implants, but it doesn’t have as long a track record for long-term studies. CeraRoot was cleared for sale by the FDA in 2011, and since then it has become much more popular because of the aesthetic benefits it offers and the need for a metal-free dental implant.

At this moment, we are able to see the progress of dental implant history and offer great treatments to a wide range of patients. To establish your place in dental implant history, please call (949) 551-5902 for a consultation with an Irvine implant dentist.