Dental implants as we know them have been available as a treatment for over fifty years, with the design of the implant honed and updated regularly to provide an even more successful, reliable treatment for missing teeth. However, the history of dental implants stretches back to the distant past, with ancient remains in China and Egypt both having been found with replacement teeth.

Dentures throughout history have included teeth from other people, wood, and even animals - and there are even cases of attempted implants using teeth from other sources. However, these second-hand teeth would usually lead to infection and be rejected by the body, as well as being incredibly painful to place in the first place. As time, medical science, and knowledge progressed, implants made of gold and metal alloys began to find some popularity - particularly amongst wealthier patients worried about the condition of their teeth, and remain popular today as caps or other displays of wealth. Unfortunately, like the wood and donor teeth used in the centuries previously, the bone would usually reject these attempts as foreign bodies.
The history of the dental implant did not see any major successes until the scientific advances of the 20th century, and discoveries of new metals, alloys and dental surgery techniques. Our current understanding of how dental implants work can be traced back to the comparatively recent 1952, when Dr Per-Ingvar Brånemark, an orthopaedic surgeon, was researching bone healing and regeneration.
After embedding titanium chambers into the bones of rabbits, Dr Brånemark found that they were unremovable several months later as the bone had fused with the chambers. Titanium has a special biocompatible property that enables bone to adhere closely to its surface - called “osseointegration” by Dr Brånemark. In 1965 he placed his first dental implant into a willing human volunteer, which was still in place forty years later!
The future of dental implants science might be able to provide alternatives to metal implants that integrate more fully than the current titanium implants - stem cell advances are allowing scientists to regrow teeth, as well as other periodontal tissues. However, as you might expect, this is complicated research that is still a long way from being a viable and affordable tooth replacement option.

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