Monday, 6 August 2012

The History of Dental Implants

From, Mayan civilisation to modern dentistry techniques, there has been a world of progression with dental implants.

You may find it surprising, but dental implants have been around since Mayan times! Today dental implants are a major part of dentistry and are used to support crowns, bridges, dentures and more. A dental implant is an artificial tooth root which supports such restorations as mentioned, and which resembles a tooth or group of teeth.

The Mayan Discovery

The Mayan civilisation was initially established around 2000 BC and it is known for being fantastically well developed. It is the only society to have had a fully-developed written language in the pre-Columbian Americas. The Mayans were sophisticated builders and architects as is evident from the huge stepped pyramids that still exist today. They were also extremely developed urban designers who managed to integrate agriculture into their cities – a feat that has proved impossible in many cities today. The Mayans were also the first people to have used implants embedded in the bone (endeosseous implants), over 1300 years ago.

In Honduras in the 1930s archaeologists found the remains of a Mayan woman, estimated to be in her twenties. In her mouth they found three tooth-shaped pieces of shell in the sockets of three missing incisor teeth in her jaw. Historians speculated as to whether they were placed in there after her death as in some ancient Egyptian rituals, but a Brazilian professor concluded that the shell pieces were placed in her mouth during her lifetime and that they were thus, the first example of dental implants.

Titanium Dental Implants

It is obvious, even to a non-dentist, that dental developments have been made since Mayan times. One of the most significant in terms of dental implants occurred in the 1950s. P I Branemark was an orthopaedic surgeon interested in bone healing and the use of titanium. He found in experiments that bone grew in such a close proximity to titanium that it practically adhered to it. His experiments were initially carried out with the intention of using titanium in hip and knee surgery but Branemark found that the mouth was more accessible for continued observation for his experiments. In 1965 he placed his first titanium dental implant in a human subject. Throughout the 60s and 70s he continued to develop the use of this metal in dental implants and today, titanium is still the element of choice.

Research into New Materials

Although dental implants are still made of titanium, current research is focusing on the use of ceramic materials such as zirconia. This material has been used successfully in orthopaedic surgery for several years and would be more aesthetically pleasing than titanium in dental implants because of its tooth-like colour.
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