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History of Dental Implants

provided by: David DiGiallorenzo

Dental implants are usually made of titanium and they resemble a tooth or group of teeth. In dentistry, the concept of the dental implant emerged to support restorations of missing teeth. The majority of dentists surgically place root-form dental implants, or teeth that appear as if it has an actual tooth root, into the jawbone. Dentists refer to the fusion of the dental implant with the jawbone as a process known as “osseointegration.” Patients may complain that dental implants feel slightly different than natural teeth while chewing, because dental implants lack the periodontal ligament of natural teeth. Before the advent of the root-form dental implant, dentists used blade-shaped teeth to fuse with the jawbone, or a framework that attached to the jawbone with screws. Dental implants may support numerous prostheses, including bridges, dentures, and crowns. Dental implants allow the surrounding teeth to move freely without interruption.

Before the advent of dental implants, early civilizations attempted to find a means of replacing teeth with rock or bones. Modern dental implants did not emerge until the rise of technology; however, the concept remained with us for hundreds, if not thousands of years. According to archaeologists, the Ancient Mayans experimented with tooth replacements around 600 A.D. by embedding carved stones, fragmented seashells, and bone into the empty cavity of where the empty teeth originated. Evidence suggests that these primitive methods worked, insomuch that the materials actually fused with the jawbone.

The earliest discovery of “osseointegration” transformed the field of dentistry and implantology. In fact, the emerging scientific advances of the early twentieth century paved the way towards the success of root-form dental implants. In 1952, a renowned orthopedic surgeon discovered that he could not remove a tiny titanium cylinder that had fused to the bone after it had healed. Titanium’s remarkable property of fusing to human bone propelled the field of dentistry beyond removable prostheses. Dental implants would not have been successful without this biological process.

Dentists issued implants for people who had difficulty maintaining their dentures inside of their mouths, mainly because the jawbone had worn down itself making it impossible to allow these dentures to rest. “Osseointegration” usually occurs near the front end of the lower jawbone, which explains why the first prototype was a one-size-fits-all design. In other words, the first dental implants had the same circumference with varying lengths, depending on the size of the patient’s mouth. The first implants required machinery to smooth and polish the surfaces to make them bearable while worn.

Modern dental implants have varying shapes and sizes, making them suitable to replace the patient’s missing teeth or dentures. The field of dentistry has improved the design of implants in order to enhance the “osseointegration” process. For instance, the first prototype had smooth and machined edges; however, modern dental implants have roughened ends through means of sandblasting and acid etching. Roughened edges increase the dental implant’s surface area where the jawbone can attach itself to it.

Recent research reveals that dental implants have remarkable success in clinical studies, especially with modern root-form surgical implants. Dental implants have proven themselves as sufficient replacements for missing teeth since the 1970s; however, it took several decades of improvement to make them reliable. Researchers have probed deeper into the discipline of dental implantology by focusing on the introduction of ceramic-like elements, such as zirconia, in the manufacturing of dental implants. Researchers have chosen zirconia due to its similarities with titanium on the periodic table. In addition, zirconia has similar bio-compatibility properties to titanium. Orthopedic surgeons have used zirconia successfully in their practice for many years, making it a worthwhile material in the manufacture of dental implants. Zirconia also has the advantage over titanium because of its aesthetic appeal that makes it look more like a bright tooth color. Researchers must conduct clinical studies before making serious considerations on using zirconia in dental implantology.

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