The Uncomfortable History Behind Dental Implants

Dental implants have been in use for almost as long as humans have been using technology. They date back hundreds if not thousands of years — with varying degrees of success. Today, dental implantology is a safe and well established practice. However this was not always the case, with dental implants having an interesting and sometimes gruesome past.

Primitive Dental Implantology

The earliest attempts at dental implant tooth replacements on record were discovered in the Mayan civilization dating back to 600 A.D. Archaeologists have recovered ancient skulls in which teeth were replaced by materials ranging from carved stones, such as jade, to fragments of seashells. Despite these primitive methods and materials, some of these early implants actually fused to the jawbone.

This act of replacing teeth with materials was a common practice for the wealthy up until Victorian times, with teeth being replaced with ivory, carved wood, and precious metals such as gold. George Washington’s dentures were made up from a mixture of gold, ivory, and lead, as well as human and animal teeth. However these fake teeth were no substitute for the real thing and soon rotted away in the mouth causing more harm than good.

Using real teeth to replace missing teeth

In Victorian times the most common method of replacing teeth was to use real teeth – taken from someone else. Although grave robbing was illegal, the most common place to acquire these teeth was from the dead. The greatest source of these were the thousands of young men who died on the many battle fields across Europe, with barrels loaded with teeth that were scavenged and shipped back to the UK.

It was seen as a patriotic act and the rich would take great pride in wearing these ‘heroes’ teeth’ (even though it was not clear who’s mouth your new teeth had been fighting for.) Although most of these teeth came from the dead, it was not uncommon for the poor to sell their teeth on. In 1783 a New York newspaper advert from a dentist offered two guineas (£2.10) for a healthy tooth.

Modern Advancements in Dental Implantology

Although tooth replacement had been common, it was not until the 1950’s that the first modern dental implant was developed. Research was being undertaken at the University of Cambridge, exploring the use of titanium chambers embedded in soft tissue of the gum. This work was taken further by the Swedish orthopaedic surgeon, Per-Ingvar Brånemark, who adapted the Cambridge design to mimic a tooth root.

When he tried to remove one of his early tests he discovered that the titanium had fused to the jaw bone and could not be removed, and the modern dental implant was born. Since then his work has been adapted and improved upon with advancements in technology such as x-rays and digital imaging.

Contact Chris

Over the last 60 years Dental Implantology has evolved into a sophisticated and relatively painless practice with thousands of procedures undertaken every year. Chris Wood’s customer journey and investment in technology make for a seamless and easy experience for his clients. If you are in need of dental implants in the UK, Chris offers a free consultation. If you would like to learn more, contact us to find out how Chris can help you.