Dental implants are an effective way to replace missing teeth, & they look & feel completely natural. However, that wasn’t always the case. The materials we use for dental implants today only came into use in the mid-1900s. Before that, different materials were used, to varying levels of functionality & success.
Very Old Materials
People have been trying to replace missing teeth for thousands of years. About 4,000 years ago, there’s evidence of bamboo pegs being used as implants in China. Archaeologists also found remains of a woman in Honduras who had pieces of clam shells that had bone growth around them, indicating that they were fully functional. Other materials found include ivory & jade.
Metals have also been used, as seen in an Egyptian person’s remains from 1,000 BC, though there’s speculation that the copper pegs were inserted after death as it would have been extremely painful. Over time, researchers had experimented with other metals, including silver, platinum, gold & alloys. These implants, while not fully successful, led directly to modern implants.
The researchers above were on the right track but kept encountering a problem: metal implants were often rejected by the patients’ mouths. The first successful implant was made of titanium after Per-Ingvar Branemark, an orthopedic surgeon, discovered that he was unable to remove a titanium chamber from a rabbit’s tibia. Inserted into a human patient in 1965, the titanium implant bonded to the patient’s jaw bone & lasted 40 years. Today, all implants are made from titanium.
When we talk about metal implants, we’re referring to the bottom part of the implant that functions as roots. Once that is installed, we add a crown to it. Since crowns don’t need to fuse to bone, they don’t need to be titanium, though they do need to be strong enough to withstand the pressures associated with chewing & biting.
The earliest crowns were made of gold, but today crowns are commonly made of ceramics & porcelain, which can be customized to match the color of the teeth surrounding them, making them look completely natural.