Like most medical history, dental implants have traveled a long fascinating road to get where they are today. Our society is not unique in having dental implants – in fact, cultures have been using them for thousands of years. Most of what we know about these far-gone implants and dental procedures comes from historians and archaeologists uncovering the daily life in older civilizations.
In Ancient Egypt, writing have been unearthed that discuss toothaches, and some dental practice. For a society which is remembered mostly for mummification and the great pyramids, they were very involved in dentistry. In an effort to stabilize teeth, Egyptians would use a ligature wire made of gold – a practice that dates to roughly 2500 B.C! Other ancient finds include a 7,000 year-old Algerian skull with a replica tooth made of bone and an Anatolian site with implants fashioned from calcite. Some believe these ancient implants were most likely implanted after death so that the deceased would have a full set of teeth in the afterlife.
About 2000 years later, the Etruscans (an ancient Italian people) had a more sophisticated design where they would fashion gold bands around teeth to improve oral function and stability. Additionally it has been found that they would fashion replacement teeth from the bones of oxen. Interestingly enough at nearly the same time, the Phoenicians (located along the Mediterranean Sea) developed a tooth stabilizing process similar to both the Egyptians and the Etruscans.
Teams of archaeologists are finding ever older implants throughout Europe. One team has found a wrought iron implant from the Roman Empire between the first and second century. Archaeologists working out of France have found implants from the third century in the mouth of a Celt. Examination of the skull in a burial ground in La Chene, France found an implant that utilized an iron pin that screwed into the gum, holding the tooth in place. Considering that the tooth is a central maxillary incisor makes it likely that it was for aesthetics. The skull in question belonged to a woman who has robed in fine jewelry and bronze making her one of the Celtic elite. Since the central maxillary incisor is a tooth commonly broken in facial trauma it could have been lost in a battle or from an accident. It is speculated that the Celts may picked up on this practice after seeing the gold-adorned mouths of the Etruscans on trading routes.
The Mayan civilization, famous for their advances in mathematics, art, and writing, had dental implants somewhat different from ours. Archaeologists studying the skulls of Mayans have found implants ranging from carved pieces of Jade to seashells as replacements as far back as 600 A.D. Although crude, in many cases these implants fused to the jaw bone making them quite functional. This same functionality is found in ancient Chinese implants which used bamboo pegs inserted into the bone. This property is a basis for modern implants known as ‘osseointergration’ or ‘bone joining’. The first discovery and documentation of this phenomena comes in 1952 and is credited to Per-Ingvar Branemark, a Swedish professor/scientist working with bone regeneration in rabbits. A dig in the 1930’s found a similar bone-joined stone implant in an early Honduran culture dating to roughly 800 A.D.
Even with all of these early advances, the first recorded successful dental implant occurred in 1809, though it was not a reproducible procedure. It would not be until Drs. Goldber and Gershkoff would develop a functioning framework that a reproducible dental implant would be recorded. Today, modern dentistry can proudly boast that dental implant procedures have a 98% success rate.
From ancient Egyptians securing teeth for the afterlife to bamboo implants, the road has been a long and winding one. As time goes on, historians and archaeologists are sure to find more fascinating and ever-older dentistry while modern dentistry becomes even better.
Source by Michael Horvath DDS