The first titanium implant wasn’t placed until 1965, but the concept of dental implants can be traced back to the Mayan civilization around 600 AD, if not earlier. We know this because archaeologists have discovered ancient skulls that contained carved stones and seashells as replacement teeth. Though the materials used were primitive, some of these early prototypes for implants were actually successful in fusing with the jawbone.
The dental implants we’re familiar with today have completely changed the possibilities of restorative dentistry. There have also been many key technological innovations that have improved the speed and effectiveness of the procedure, in addition to allowing more patients to become candidates.
Explore our guide to learn about a few of the most important advancements in implant technology.
The Discovery of Osseointegration
Like many great medical advancements, the discovery of what makes dental implants effective was an accident. It took place in 1952, when an orthopedic surgeon placed a small titanium cylinder in a bone and found that he couldn’t remove it. The titanium had completely integrated with the bone, leading to the development of dental implants as we know them today.
The process of your implant post fusing with your jawbone is called osseointegration, and it’s the key to the success of dental implants. Thanks to osseointegration, your implant post acts like a natural tooth root, providing the necessary stimulation to support healthy bone growth and prevent your surrounding teeth from shifting.
This research was taken further by Dr. Per-Ingvar Branemark, a Swedish physician who invented the term osseointegration and placed the first titanium implant in a patient’s jaw in 1965. Though his research wasn’t immediately well-received, the world of dentistry slowly grew to see dental implants as the healthiest and most effective replacement for missing teeth.
3D Imaging Technology
One of the most significant advancements in dental implant technology is the use of 3D imaging. By producing a 3D digital model of your entire oral cavity, your dentist has the ability to anticipate any potential issues that could interfere with your treatment and plan accordingly. This technology also allows them to place your implants with greater precision in order to maximize your available bone tissue.
Today, the majority of implant dentists use 3D imaging to help plan your surgery. For example, Dr. Christopher Silvoy in Durham, NC uses the 3Shape Implant Studio® and the TRIOS® intraoral scanner to perform digital implantology. This means your entire treatment, from the initial planning to the placement of your implants, is guided by a digital system to speed up the process and ensure optimal results.
In addition to helping dentists deliver more accurate surgeries, 3D imaging technology also allows you to see what your dentist is seeing and visualize the final results of your treatment.
Immediate Load Implants
For most patients, the only significant drawback of dental implants is that the procedure typically requires multiple appointments over the course of several months to complete. Immediate load implants offer an alternative to the traditional method, allowing you to enjoy your new smile instantly after surgery.
This technique first gained recognition in 1997, when Dr. Serge Szmukler-Moncler presented his research to the European Association for Osseointegration and was awarded first prize. Since then, the immediate load method has expanded and continued to grow in popularity.
Some dentists, like Dr. Keith Cooper in San Jose, can provide you with a full set of permanent teeth in just one short appointment. He can accomplish this by placing a complete denture and anchoring it with four to six dental implants for maximum stability.
Same Day Restorations
The traditional method of creating dental prosthetics to top your implant is a pain — it involves taking messy dental impressions of your teeth and waiting two weeks or more for a lab to create your restoration. This all changed with the invention of computer-aided design and manufacturing, also known as CAD/CAM technology.
Using CAD/CAM technology, dentists can design and create prosthetics in a single visit, including crowns, bridges, dentures, and more. This means you won’t have to wear a temporary restoration and wait weeks to enjoy your new smile. It also minimizes the number of appointments you need and decreases your time spent in the dental chair.
One of the most respected providers of CAD/CAM technology is CEREC®, short for Chairside Economical Restoration of Esthetic Ceramics. Dentists who feature this technology at their practice, such as Dr. Roman Shlafer in Farmington Hills, MI, can produce attractive and durable crowns for your implant in just one hour.
The Endless Expansion of Implant Technology
As you can see, dental implants have come a long way since the days of the ancient Mayans. The advancements discussed above are just a few of the many important discoveries in implant dentistry that have made it possible for millions of people to smile again.
Thankfully, technological innovation is unlikely to stop any time soon. As science and surgical techniques keep progressing, there’s every reason to believe that implant technology will continue to improve and expand the possibilities of tooth replacement.