The Fascinating (and Disturbing) History of Dental Implants

Dentists in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, and Borneo may be familiar with requests to remove healthy teeth, but here in the UK, we are more in the business of replacing them. 

Actually, the practice of removing teeth for aesthetic or religious reasons goes way back to ancient times, as does the art and science of creating supplementary implants for those who value their smile.  

Do you know the history of dental implants

Come with us on a fascinating journey and discover when, where and how dental implants were done (and why we are so thrilled to have the tech we have today.)

The History of Dental Implants

Throughout history, the function and beauty of teeth have been highly valued as well as representative of health, wealth, and status. So, it’s little wonder that archaeology shows attempts at dental implants as early as 2000 BC.

Ancient implants: What did they use?


Without the modern tools and products that we now enjoy, our ancestors resorted to using whatever they could find or fashion as a replacement tooth.

The earliest dental replacements in China were understood to be pegs fashioned from bamboo which were shaped and then hammered into the jawbone. The thought of that is enough to make our eyes water, but that’s only the beginning. 

It was common for people to use teeth from the bodies of other people or animals. With the right size, shape, and durability this sounds like a reasonable idea, but the reality was that implant rejection and infection was high.

Seashells have also played a part in the history of dental implants with intriguing evidence from the Mayan culture around 600 AD. The radiographs show what looks to be a successful implant with compact bone growth around the shell, similar to that of a blade implant in modern times. 

Figure 1 Source – NCBI

Stones, bone fragments, metals and gems have all been used with varying success over the years to replace missing teeth.

How was it done?

As mentioned before, a hammer was pretty much the only tool needed to perform a not-so-complex dental implant. However, as time went on, surgeons developed simple tools such as a hand drill to create a hole in the jaw into which an implant could be placed. 

This proved to be a far more precise practice which also allowed for a better shape, a better fit, and a good chance that the bone would be able to grow around the implanted material and heal.

Fast forward to the early 1900s when Dr P.B. Adams developed and patented a threaded cylindrical anchor which allowed the bone to bond with the metal for a particularly compact result. A crown could then be placed onto this solid foundation for a long-lasting and hard-wearing solution.

However, we still have questions.

What about pain management?

The mere thought of undergoing a dental procedure such as an extraction or an implant without a good deal of anaesthesia probably fills you with dread. 

So how did they manage before they had the option of local or general anaesthetic?

“The Renaissance saw significant advances in anatomy and surgical technique. However, despite all this progress, surgery remained a treatment of last resort. Largely because of the associated pain, many patients with surgical disorders chose certain death rather than undergo surgery.” (Source)

That likely rings true for many people.

The go-to solution for ancient dental patients was usually alcohol. As a central nervous system depressant, it would act as a sedative or tranquillizer, although as you can imagine, this wouldn’t have been sufficient for most dental implant procedures. 

Aconite, a poisonous substance from a flowering plants species, was also used in dental procedures. Carefully prepared, aconite has been used to treat anxiety, panic, and fear, and is still used today in homoeopathy.  

Cannabis was another natural remedy utilised by ancient doctors.

Labroots tells us, “In the Vedas for example, written between 2000 BC and 1400 BC, cannabis was described as a “source of happiness”, a “joy-giver”, and “bringer of freedom” that was compassionately given to humans by the gods to relieve them from anxiety and help them achieve delight, as well as fearlessness. 

“Smoked daily at devotional services and during religious rituals, around the same time, cannabis was also used for its medicinal properties; various parts of the plant being used to treat a wide variety of issues from epilepsy to rabies, anxiety and even bacterial infections such as bronchitis.”

Modern-day dental implants

Thankfully we now have a host of medical marvels which we make daily use of to manage pain and anxiety whilst in the dentist’s chair.

We can create and fit beautiful, natural-looking implants which are both durable and comfortable, all the while ensuring a hygienic service and better oral health.  

If you’ve been contemplating implants to replace a tooth or several missing teeth, please feel free to call into the Clinic and chat with one of our friendly staff. 

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