Tales from the Operatory: History of Implants

Teeth serve a huge purpose for us.  They help support the frame of the face.  They allow us to chew, and masticate the food we put in our mouth, allowing the saliva to mix and soften the food and enable us to swallow it as it begins breaking down for its nutritional value.

As we lose teeth it makes that process so much more difficult and our face begins to lose shape.  This has been going on for thousands of years and thus implants were born.  As early as 2000 BC, early versions of dental implants were used in the civilization of ancient China. Carved bamboo pegs were originally used to replace the missing teeth at this time.

The first recorded case of a replacement tooth made of metal comes from the body of an Egyptian king who lived in approximately 1000 BC. His upper jawbone has a copper peg that has been hammered into it, although it is not certain if the peg was attached during his lifetime as a tooth replacement or after his death.

If you’re thinking of getting a dental implant today, you should be thankful — you’ll experience a safe experience with minimal discomfort. Most of the original practices, however, were barbaric, painful and sometimes fatal.

In 1931, Dr. Wilson Popenoe, together with his wife Dorothy Popenoe, found the skull of a young woman in Honduras. Her lower jaw had three missing teeth, which had been replaced by shells. The shells had been shaped to mimic the structure of the teeth. Bone growth and calculus were present, so these teeth were made for function and not aesthetics.

Today, modern technology has made dental implants the go-to solution for missing teeth.

Before modern titanium implants were invented, the main struggle with dental implants was the rejection of the foreign material by the body. In the 18th century, researchers used a blend of gold and alloy to create dental implants. Unfortunately, these experiments were a massive failure, but they opened doors to more fruitful research in later years.

In the middle of the 1600’s periodontally compromised teeth were stabilized in Europe with various substances. From the 1500’s to about the 1800’s, teeth in Europe were collected from the underprivileged or from cadavers for the use of allotransplantation. During this period, Dr. John Hunter came on to the scene; for many years he worked with “resurrectionists”-people who acquired corpses underhandedly through the robbing of graves. By doing so, he was able to observe and document with great detail the anatomy of the mouth and jaw. In the 1700’s, Dr. Hunter suggested transplanting teeth from one human to another; his experiment involved the implantation of an incompletely developed tooth into the comb of a rooster. He observed an extraordinary and astonishing event: the tooth became firmly embedded in the comb of the rooster and the blood vessels of the rooster grew straight into the pulp of the tooth. In 1809, J. Maggiolo inserted a gold implant tube into a fresh extraction site. This site was allowed to heal and then a crown was later added; unfortunately, there was extensive inflammation of the gingiva which followed the procedure. Innumerable substances during this time period were used as implants; these included silver capsules, corrugated porcelain, and iridium tubes

One doctor used a porcelain implant that had a platinum disc. However, these efforts were unsuccessful because the bone rejected all the materials they used. A successful implant involves permanently fusing an implant into the jawbone in a process called osseointegration.

Throughout the 1900s, many doctors tried different materials, but none of them provided long-term results. In 1913, Dr. E.J. Greenfield tried to use 24-karat gold as an implant. Then, two brothers, Drs. Alvin and Moses Strock, tried to use fixtures made from Vitallium after observing the material being used in hip bone implants. These fixtures were more long-lasting, and the brothers were recognized as the first people to place an implant into the jawbone successfully.

In 1952, orthopedic surgeon and research professor Dr. Per-Ingvar Brånemark laid the foundation for modern-day dental implants. During a study on bone healing and regeneration, he implanted a piece of titanium onto a rabbit’s femur. He was not able to remove it because the titanium had fused with the bone. He accidentally discovered that implants made from titanium had a better success rate and theorized this technology could be useful in dental implant applications and similar fields.

After further experimentation, he used titanium to replace a missing tooth in one of his patients in 1965, and it was a success. This discovery was a significant breakthrough in the dental implant industry. He went on to publish several studies explaining the benefits of using titanium in dental implants. Thanks to Dr. Per-Ingvar Brånemark, dental implants have improved over the years to become what they are today.

Dentists, clinicians, orthopedic surgeons and other medical professionals consider dental implants the best solution for missing teeth. Dental implant applications include dentures, bridges and crowns, even if there is only one missing tooth. Current implants come in a variety of shapes and sizes to suit different teeth. Their surfaces have been created to enhance seamless integration. Instead of being straight and smooth, they’re roughened to increase the surface area where the bone can become attached. The texture improves the osseointegration process.

Today’s implants have an extremely low failure rate. With proper treatment, sound surgical procedures, and prosthetics that account for bone density, health, function, speech, aesthetics and ease of cleaning, you can expect up to 10-year success rates in over 98% of cases. In contrast, bridges, crowns and root canals only have a 10-year success rate in about 80% of cases. In fact, almost all medical surgeries have a 10-year success rate of only 75%. In short, dental implant surgery has become extremely successful and predictable.

Besides being a successful, long-lasting solution, dental implants also:

  • Restore facial appearance.
  • Enhance eating, chewing and speaking.
  • Provide a beautiful smile.
  • Prevent bone loss by stimulating the jawbone.
  • Look natural and resemble your existing teeth.


It is estimated that more than 2 million patients have benefited from dental implant techniques since 1965. Since titanium is not treated as a foreign object by the body, the integration of titanium has become standard dental treatment. By securing a new tooth to a replacement tooth root (dental implant) a solid replacement is created that looks, feels, and performs just like the real thing.


Columbia Dental can remove your bad teeth and insert an implant to replace them on the same day.  With our expert specialists trained in implant placement and our onsite digital dental lab in Manchester, we can fashion the crown on the same day as the implant placement and have you leave the office with all your teeth.  Let Columbia Dental help design and deliver your forever smile.


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