Dental implants have been being placed for decades in many forms. Early implant styles were basically surgical steel plates shaped like picket fences that were placed into slots in the jaw bone for bone to grow around. Unfortunately, few of these proved to be successful over time because of infections around them and unusual healing of the bone around the steel. Another attempt to secure lower dentures involved two major surgeries where the skin over the jaw was reflected down and the entire jaw bone was exposed to enable an impression of the bone first to make a framework that sat on top of the bone under the skin. A second surgery involved reopening that same surgical wound and placing what was called a subperiosteal implant. In rare cases, these are still done today. However, because they are held in place by soft tissue alone and because two major surgeries are required, they are much more prone to complications and have increased costs associated with them than modern dental implants, called rootform endosseous implants.
In the 1970’s, a physician in Sweden discovered that a titanium tube that he placed for an unrelated research project in the leg bone of rabbit could not be removed from the bone after several weeks. By analyzing the removed bone/titanium sample under a microscope, he realized that the bone had grown to the titanium. This was something that had never been observed before. He coined the term osseointegration to describe the phenomenon. This doctor, Dr. Per-Invar Branemark, is world renowned as the “father of modern dental implantology.”
Rootform dental implants are used to replace single missing teeth, to support complete and partial dentures, to attach artificial noses and ears, to rebuild palates severely damage by trauma or cancer treatment, etc. Variations of dental implants designed not to osseointegrate are even used in orthodontics in some cases. Implants have success rates studies over twenty or more years that suggest that they are successful about 90% of the time, depending on the medical conditions of the patient, forces applied to the implant, type of restoration or prosthesis that it supports, etc. In fact, the same technology used to make dental implants and the science of osseointegration is now applied to artificial joints in other areas of the body. Since dental implants have revolutionized dentistry by providing predictable options to replace individual teeth and to improve the quality of life of denture wearers dramatically, it is well worth having a discussion with your dentist about whether they may be right for you.