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Unveiling the History of Dental Implants, Tracing the Path of Advancements

The world is full of animals who can grow new teeth. Humans, like most mammals, aren’t among them.

Once your two sets of teeth develop completely, that’s it. You can’t grow new ones. Of course, researchers are trying to change that through things like stem cell implants and monoclonal antibodies, but we’re still many years away from this being the kind of thing you could walk into a dental office and get.

So if you lose teeth as an adult – whether due to injury or severe gum disease – you’re left with the three traditional fixes: bridges, partial dentures, and implants. While the last of these might seem like a recent advancement, their history actually stretches back to ancient days.

Our distant ancestors didn’t like the toothless option any more than we do.

Dental Implants in Ancient Times
Archaeological finds show that many ancient civilizations experimented with tooth replacement. Some mummified remains from ancient Egypt have had gold wire implanted in the jawbone, suggesting a rudimentary form of implant. Around 500 BCE, Etruscans were replacing teeth with carved oxen bones and gold wire. Two hundred years later, the Phonecians were doing something similar with carved ivory.

On the other side of the world, the Mayans used seashells or stones to replace missing teeth, and archaeological specimens have shown that these actually integrated with the jawbone.

Many centuries later, dentists in Europe and then the US began to experiment with something closer to the dental implants that are most common today: metal posts placed in the jaw to support one or more artificial teeth. The main challenge? Figuring out a way to keep the body from rejecting the foreign material.

The Modern Dental Implant
The real breakthrough in modern implantology came in the 1950s, after a Swedish orthopedic surgeon read a study in which a titanium cylinder had fused with the femur of a rabbit. He suspected the same thing could be done with dental implants and ran with the idea. About a decade later, the first titanium dental implant was placed.

Titanium became the material of choice due to its ability to osseointegrate and the belief that it was generally biocompatible. Of course, we now know that titanium implants can corrode just like cobalt-chromium and the other metals that had been tried before it. The metal ions released can fuel chronic inflammation, leading to conditions like peri-implantitis or even cavitations. Titanium may also “induce toxicity” or allergic responses in patients sensitive to other metals, some of which may also be present in the implant, such as aluminum, which is sometimes used to coat the implant. One German study found that almost all of the samples the researchers tested contained nickel, an extremely toxic heavy metal.

The aesthetics of titanium implants can also leave a lot to be desired. If your gums are thin or recede at all, you wind up with gray lines showing through, creating shadows along the gum line. It’s not a look most people really want to rock.

Fortunately, newer implant materials and designs emerged that not only offer much better aesthetics but are metal-free and biocompatible.

What Makes Ceramic Zirconia Implants the Better Choice
Ceramic zirconia implants are known for their excellent biocompatibility, strength, and tooth-like aesthetics. They’re well tolerated by most people, although if there’s ever any question about whether any specific material is suitable, we can order compatibility testing to make sure we choose the option that’s the best fit for you.

Ceramic implants have other virtues, too. They’re less prone to bacterial buildup than their metal counterparts, for one, and their rougher surface tends to integrate very well with bone. In fact, some research suggests that they may integrate better than titanium.

Reasons like these are why metal-free implants are the only kind we place here at the Holistic Dental Center. Our patients deserve nothing less than the best.