The History of Dental Implants

Author: Dermot McNulty
03.06.15 / 4:25 pm

Dental implants are now considered the most advanced solution for missing teeth and some dentists have as high as a 97% long-term success rate. Dental Implants are the only reliable solution that:

  • Support surrounding teeth
  • Continue to stimulate natural bone formation
  • Restore a patient’s smile and confidence
  • Restore a patient’s ability to chew

It is evident that throughout the history of civilization the aesthetics of a full smile coupled with restoring the function of being able to chew food has driven people to replace missing teeth.

A brief look through time:

  • 4000 years ago in ancient China, carved bamboo pegs were used to replace missing teeth.
  • 3000 years ago an Egyptian king had a copper peg hammered into his upper jaw bone.  Although this may have been placed post-death, this is the first recorded case of a metal replacement tooth being fixed to a jawbone.
  • A 2300-year-old iron false tooth was recently found among real teeth in a Celtic grave in France. Experts believe they were fitted to improve the smile post-death, as it would have been absolutely excruciating to have it hammered into the jaw.
  • 2000 years ago people often tried to replace lost teeth with animal ones, or teeth bought from slaves and poor people. An implant taken from an animal would be classified today as a heteroplastic implant whereas an implant from another human would be classed as a homoplastic implant. Replacement teeth from another person or animal’s mouth would be likely to suffer infection and would be rejected by the host.
  • Archaeologists have discovered ancient skulls dating from roughly 1350 years ago where teeth have been replaced by many different types of material ranging from jade to sea shells; in some cases the replacement tooth has even fused with the jawbone. One example is that of Dr and Mrs Wilson Popenoe, who in 1931 were excavating Mayan ruins in Honduras and found a jaw with three carved, tooth-shaped shells in the lower jaw of a human’s remains. What is interesting is the bone structure around the shell showed signs of regeneration.

Major developments in dental implants came much later

In the eighteenth century, forward thinking researchers began to experiment with gold and alloys, despite efforts these experiments often had poor results.

In 1886 a doctor mounted a porcelain crown on a platinum disc; again yielding poor long-term success. The issue throughout time has always been that the body and the bone rejected the foreign bodies. For a successful dental implant, you need the replacement tooth to actually fuse to the bone. This is known as osseointegration.

Modern dental implants are made out of titanium because it has special properties that give it a high success rate of osseointegration. In 1952, an orthopaedic surgeon unintentionally discovered these special properties. He realized he was unable to remove a titanium cylinder he had placed in a rabbit femur during a study of bone healing and regeneration. Upon realization that the bone had grown in such close proximity to the titanium cylinder that it had fused together, he continued to experiment further in both animal and human subjects. In 1965, Branemark, the orthopaedic surgeon, placed his first titanium dental implant into a live human volunteer.

This was a pivotal moment in dental history and the process has been greatly improved over recent decades through research and a desire for perfection. Modern dental implants are composed of a high-grade titanium alloy screw, often with a roughened surface to improve osseointegration. This titanium screw is fixed to the jaw where the tooth used to be and is then allowed a period of healing. Once the screw has fused to the jaw, a post is inserted with a crown on the top. This method has high long-term success rates with the correct care and oral hygiene in place.

Arguably, one of the largest factors in the high success rate of dental implants is the advanced training required. According to the Faculty of General Dental Practice (FGDP), “Their insertion involves various surgical and restorative dental procedures and therefore dentists placing implants must be competent to carry out these procedures.” (http://www.fgdp.org.uk/_assets/pdf/publications/policy%20documents/implant%20training%20stds%20jun%2012.pdf)

Various postgraduate training providers offer courses that ensure dentists who want to become dental implantologists have the required expertise and understanding. One such course is run by the FGDP at the prestigious Royal College of Surgeons of England where one of the most established Dental Implant dentists in the UK, Dermot McNulty (BDS DipImpDent RCS Eng) of Bath Spa Dentistry, is a lecturer, examiner, and cohort director. It is the progressive attitude of dentists such as Dermot, who aim to improve the quality of service and levels of success rates in the practice of dental implants as a whole that continue to drive dental implants toward having higher success rates across the country.

Dermot McNulty

40 responses to “The History of Dental Implants”

  1. […] The History of Dental Implants Do you ever wonder how the most advanced solution for missing teeth came to be? Turns out, the first dental implants existed 4000 years ago in ancient China. Carved bamboo pegs were used to replace missing teeth. Take a closer look into this article for a detailed dental implant timeline. […]

  2. Incredibly interesting read here! I especially like the idea of jade or seashell teeth – were they the grills of their day? I guess it depends on how well made and placed in they were – the past isn’t exactly known for being especially hygenic!

  3. Hey there!

    This post is really useful. I also found some interesting apps for dentist around the world like dentalink Software dental nos dentist in 20 countries are using it.

  4. Thanks for the post. I loved the idea. It is a great way to get children to learn about dental health, and its a fun way for them to learn. Thanks for the idea, happy blogging!

  5. I’ve always found these brief history lessons on dental implants pretty cool. It amazes me that even thousands of years ago there was technology like this! I can’t imagine how difficult or painful it would have to be back the, but now it is relatively painless. My wife will be getting an implant this year, and I am glad that she won’t have to deal with it like times of old.

  6. Dental implants seem like a really great solution for those who have had concurrent teeth problems or those who’s teeth are completely gone altogether. I appreciate you taking the time to get this information out there Dermot for those who are pretty new to implants! I do not need them yet, thankfully, but if I was ever to get dental implants, hopefully, I will be living in Virginia. Do you know any good dentists in Fairfax area by chance?

  7. Dermot, thank you for sharing this information. It’s really interesting to see the history behind implants. I had no idea that they dated back so long. It’s amazing that thousands of years ago there were even people who had some kind of dental implant.

  8. It is really interesting to hear the history behind dental implants! I can’t believe that it all started with titanium place in a rabbit femur. I’ve been thinking about replacing one of my teeth with an implant instead of getting a root canal. I will definitely ask my dentist about the procedure.

  9. That’s fascinating that dental implants have been around for 4,000 years. However, as you mentioned, dental implants of today’s world are much more successful and natural looking. They are a fantastic way to replace lost or damaged teeth with a high success rate and reliability while being aesthetically pleasing.

  10. It really amazes me that dental implants went back to over 4000 years ago. However, I’m sure that the process then was a lot more painful than the processes today. I’m glad that they did advance the technology, since I couldn’t bear the amount of pain it would be for someone to pound a fake tooth into my jaw.

  11. Wow! This is quite comprehensive. We’ve definitely come a long way! From bamboo shoots to titanium, having a good set of pearly whites is important.

  12. Even though they were probably done after death, the thought of having a copper peg hammered into my jaw makes me cringe. It is interesting to learn about the history of implants though. Thanks so much for sharing.

  13. That’s crazy that the idea of implants have been around for so long. I would have never guessed. I can’t imagine how painful that would have been to hammer something like that into your jaw though. I feel like that would cause more problems than not having teeth. Thanks for the history lesson.

  14. Fascinating! I’m building a website for a dental practice and learning so much about dental. It makes me cringe to think people would be even tried some of that stuff.

  15. It’s a bit disturbing what ancient civilizations used for false teeth. It makes me happy that I was born after the 18th century when there were major developments in dental implants. I’d prefer not to use a bamboo or copper pet as a tooth.

  16. Wow haven’t we come a long way, from bamboo pegs to immediate loading implants! I’m sure they are teaching some of this stuff in dental school these days: history of dentistry.
    Implants really are the best solution for missing teeth though and with the technology these days, they are almost guaranteed to work long-term. Although you’re never going to get a 100% guarantee from any dentist, just as you wouldn’t from any doctor. But in comparison to a solution like dental bridge, implants win the game.

  17. […] Dental implants may seem like a marvel of modern technology, but in reality, they have a long, winding history. For as long as there have been people, there have also been people unhappy about losing their teeth. To understand why we use the implants available today in the 21st century, it’s important to look back at the history of dental implants. […]

  18. […] know that the issue of missing teeth has baffled people for a really long time? According to the Dental Geek website, the first case of a synthetic replacement for missing teeth dates back 4000 years in China, where […]

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