Dental Implants – A Modern Marvel?

Tooth loss is nothing new. If you’ve ever had any caveman friends, then you know that it’s been a common problem since… well since cavemen. It’s no surprise then that Homo sapiens (and maybe a caveman and rabbitfew chimps – I wouldn’t put it past them) across the globe have been searching for the ideal tooth-replacement solution for ages. What might surprise you, though, is Pygmy Pterodactyls! Just kidding. But seriously, it might surprise you to learn that our very own modern marvel – dental implants – have actually been cooking in the minds of ancient peoples for quite some time, quite indeed.

Implants as we know them began with the famous  scientist Per-Ingvar Brånemark. He discovered, rather incidentally, that bone tissue would fuse to titanium when he replaced a rabbit’s femur with a titanium rod. Dr. Brånemark applied his hare-brained scheme to dentistry, and in 1965, the first dental implant replaced the first tooth in a living human skull. Or so we thought.

Although early cultures probably didn’t have access to large quantities of titanium, they had other materials and other means of implantation. Check out how these ancient cultures solved the problem of tooth loss with their very own dental implants:

  • Mayans: Perhaps the most famous implant discovery came in Honduras when scientists discovered tooth-shaped shells implanted in the jaw bone of a 1,300-year-old mandible.
  • Egyptians: Unwrapped mummy skulls have been found with gold wires inserted in the sockets left by missing teeth.
  • Romans: The most recent and perhaps the most controversial find involves a Roman soldier unearthed with a cast-iron implant in a jaw that dates back 1,900 years.

Other materials used for ancient implants include rubber, ivory, copper, semi-precious stones, and even oxen bone. Several hundred years ago in France, the wealthy elite could purchase implantable teeth extracted from the city’s youth. As you can imagine, infections, rejections, and malfunctions plagued the subjects of these early experiments, and many of the practices were discontinued.

While titanium may seem like a substance you’d find in a Terminator flick – not your mouth – it’s actually safe, effective, and highly successful for a wide range of implications. In fact, we also use titanium for replacement hips and joints, space shuttle parts, and in constructing mind-boggling works of genius. At your next dental visit, tell your dentist you’d like rocket-ship teeth of the future. He’ll know what you mean, and if he doesn’t, you might at least get a molar-shaped jetpack out of the deal. Win-Win.