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We tend to assume that dental implants are one of the marvels of modern dental technology, and in their current form, they are. However, it may surprise you to know that the idea of replacing missing teeth with a form of implant dates back as far as 600 AD and is attributed to the Mayans. Can you believe it has taken us 1,400 years to develop a modern day implant?

It all began in 1931 when archaeologists excavating Mayan burial sites in Honduras discovered a fragment of a lower jaw bone believed to be that of a Mayan woman in her twenties, and dating back to around 600 AD. The mandible had three pieces of tooth shaped shell placed into the sockets of three missing incisor teeth.

For forty years it was believed by the archaeological world that the shells had been placed beneath the nose, as was the customary practice for the Egyptians. However, in 1970 an academic professor from Brazil, Amedio Bobbio, studied the jaw bone and decided to take some radiographs. What he saw astounded him. Compact growth had occurred in the manner of bone formation around two of the implanted pieces of shell which led to the conclusion that the implants must have been put in place while the woman was alive, and not after her death as first thought.

Modern dental implant procedure can be traced back to the 1950’s when Cambridge University, England was carrying out research into blood flow vivo. A method was devised to construct a titanium chamber which was then implanted into the soft lining of rabbits ears.

In 1952 P I Brånemark, a Swedish Orthopaedic Surgeon was studying regeneration and healing in bones, and copied the “rabbit ear chamber” to use on rabbit femurs. After a few months of study, he went to remove these expensive chambers without any success. He discovered that the bone had grown so close to the titanium that it had to all effect stuck to it. Brånemark carried out further studies which all pointed to the unique qualities of titanium and its potential for dental implants.

Although Brånemark has originally intended for his first work to concentrate on hip and knee surgery he concluded that the mouth was more accessible for continued studies and with more people willing to become subjects of observation. He called the adherence of titanium with bone “osseointegration”. In 1965 he undertook dental implants surgery on a human volunteer named Gösta Larrson and put in a place a titanium implant.

Over the following 14 years Proifessor Brånemark  (as he had become) published many papers on using titanium for implants and in 1978 entered into a commercial partnership with Bofors AB, the Swedish defence company, to market and develop his implants. With Nobel Industries (as Bofors became known) as the parent company, Nobelpharma was formed in 1981 (later to be called Nobel Biocare) to focus purely on implants and procedures.

To date, more than 7 million patients have received  Brånemark System Implants and hundreds of other companies also now produce their own dental implants.