Since tooth loss is nothing new to man, it should come as no surprise that humans have been searching for replacement solutions since the stone age. Although ancient cultures didn’t have access to state-of-the-art treatments available at modern periodontal offices, they tried their best with the materials on hand.
The first known dental implant is attributed to the Mayans around 600 AD. In 1931, an archeologist in Honduras discovered the mandible of a Mayan woman in her twenties. Surprisingly, three of her teeth were made from pieces of shell as opposed to bone. For decades scientists believed that the shells were inserted after death in preparation for the afterlife, but in 1970 radiographic studies by dental scholar Amadeo Bobbeo confirmed the pieces of shell had melded with Mayan’s jawbone. This fusion, known as osseointegration, can only occur in living beings.
Archeologists have also uncovered evidence of dental implants in other advanced ancient cultures including the Chinese (bamboo), Egyptians (gold wire), and Romans (cast-iron). Other materials used for ancient implants include rubber, ivory, copper, and semi-precious stones.
Modern implants were born as the result of groundbreaking research at Cambridge University in the 1950s. Swedish orthopedic surgeon Per-Ingvar Brånemark discovered that titanium fused to the soft tissue of rabbit ears. Dr. Brånemark realized that similar conditions exist in the human mouth and performed the first modern dental implant in 1965.
Today implants have a success rate of about 98% with proper homecare — a statistic that our ancestors would truly envy.