The Comforting Evolution of Dental Implants

We’re guessing that there aren’t many of our patients who would welcome a replacement tooth from a dead animal. 

If the thought of that made you shudder (it certainly did us!) then you’re probably just as grateful as we are at the wonderful evolution of dental implants and the amazing solutions offered by modern dentistry.

We’ve recently uncovered some unhygienic and – frankly – unsavoury dental practices from days gone by in our article on the history of dental implants, so we’re all about ready for something a little more palatable.

The evolution of dental implants, especially during the early 1900s, took a turn for the better as science and medicine combined forces. 

Evolution of dental implants

One of the major problems facing ancient dentists was finding a suitable replacement for a tooth. Seashells, pieces of bone, stone, and even teeth harvested from dead bodies and animals were used with varying success. The second issue was, of course, ensuring that the tooth stayed put.

Dental rejection

Introducing foreign bodies into the mouth as replacement teeth created a host of issues. Besides poor hygiene and the frequent mouth infections that followed, dentists found that the replacement tooth and the bone had to fuse or grow together for the implant to be successful, which just wasn’t happening.

This process, called osseointegration, was the source of much frustration, trial, and error. 

Whilst dental surgeons in the 1800s and early 1900s now had the equipment to drill into the jaw and position an implant, they still lacked the material to do it. Gold and other alloys were used, but these failed in one way or another. 

However, a breakthrough came in 1952 when an orthopaedic surgeon discovered that titanium would successfully fuse with bone, and this led to experimentation in the field of dental implants. By 1965 the first titanium implant was successfully placed into a human volunteer.

The magic of titanium

What made titanium a suitable base for a dental implant, whereas other metals failed? 

One editorial comments on the value of titanium in dental implants as follows:

  • Titanium is stronger and lighter in weight compared to stainless steel.
  • Titanium has a large resistance to repeated loads making it ideal for its application as an implant.
  • Titanium has greater superior strength under repeated load stresses, making this metal capable of withstanding strain during internal fixation.
  • With a lower modulus of elasticity compared to stainless steel, titanium is less rigid which limits the amount of stress on bone structures.
  • Titanium is less prone generating an immune reaction based on the fact that this material is corrosion resistant compared to stainless steel implants.

Another scientific study on titanium and the human body says, “Titanium alloys are used in biomedical implant devices which replace damaged hard tissue. Some examples of Ti uses in biomedical applications are dental and orthopaedic implants, artificial hearts, pacemakers, artificial knee joints, bone plates, cardiac valve prostheses, screws for fracture fixation, artificial hip joints and cornea backplates.

“CP-Ti has a higher resistance to corrosion and is widely regarded as the most biocompatible metal because of a stable and an inert oxide layer which spontaneously forms when its surface is exposed to oxidising media.”

Development and design

Once the medical community realised that titanium was the best choice for dental implants, they could work towards refining the processes to create natural-looking teeth which will last many years without incident. 

A threaded titanium screw could now be carefully positioned in the upper or lower jaw, and the surrounding bone is left to grow around it to provide a solid support structure. Thereafter, a crown can be fixed to this implant for a hard-wearing result.

What a relief to be able to enjoy the benefits of a successful, hygienic dental implant with suitable pain relief and a low risk of infection. 

But that was then, and this is now. 

What can you expect if you need dental implants today? What options are available to you, and where is this fascinating field heading? 

Look out for our next article on modern-day dental implants. 

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