Vail Daily health: Dental implants increasingly important |

Vail Daily health: Dental implants increasingly important

Dr. James Harding
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado – Most people, including many dentists, think the history of dental implants began in the 1950s with the advent of the titanium screw-style implant.

It is interesting to note that archeologists actually credit the first use of dental implants to the Mayan civilization over 1,300 years ago. Excavations of skeletal remains in Honduras in Central America have revealed that pieces of shell, shaped like teeth, had been placed or implanted into the jaws of living Mayans.Half a world away, the ancient Egyptians also experimented with dental implants using materials such as shell, ivory and copper, perhaps as far back as 3,000 years ago.

While these are interesting historical considerations, the era of modern implant dentistry began quite by accident in 1951. Swedish orthopedic surgeon P. I. Branemark was doing research at Gothenburg University on bone healing. One of his research projects involved placing titanium rods into the bones of animal subjects. When he later attempted to remove the expensive rods he discovered that they had fused to the bone and removal was very difficult. He coined this phenomenon ‘osseointegration’ and this research became the basis for the field of implant dentistry, as we know it today.

Branemark turned his focus to developing a system for replacing missing teeth. Over the next 25 years he researched and placed the first titanium implant to replace a missing human tooth. His early techniques have been taught throughout the world to virtually every dental professional who has been trained in the placement dental implants.

Today, more than 40 million people in the developed Western World have lost all of their permanent teeth. These statistics are even higher for other areas such as Africa and Asia. Additionally, almost 70 percent of the adults in the U.S. between the ages of 35 and 44 have lost at least one tooth and by the age of 75, one quarter of the U.S. population has lost all of their teeth.

With the aging of our population, the area of implant dentistry is extremely important to restore the lost function of these missing teeth. In fact, there were more dental implants placed in the past five years than in the first 20 years combined. The use of dental implants is expected to double again in the next five years, as more and more people turn to this option over traditional bridges and removable dentures and partials.

While missing teeth can result in unattractive smiles and general embarrassment, the loss of chewing function can result in decreased overall health, especially in the elderly who are forced to chew or function with ill-fitting dentures. Modern dental implants have become the most successful and predictable treatment option for the replacement of one or more missing teeth.

The overall success rate of dental implants is more than 95 percent. Dental implants have many benefits, including feeling and looking similar to natural teeth, improved cosmetics, and chewing function that provides an improved quality of life. One additional benefit that is often overlooked is that implants help prevent bone atrophy after a tooth is removed. Over time, this bone loss becomes a major problem, which can significantly complicate or even prevent the placement of a dental implant.

The future of dental implants is also very exciting with implant technology advancing nearly on a daily basis. In one example, ‘nanotechnology’ is now being used to alter the surface of the titanium implant, allowing for increased and quicker bone bonding. Research is also being conducted to develop ceramic or zirconia implants that will significantly improve implant aesthetics, especially in the front of the mouth where cosmetic appearance is most critical.

With these advancements in bonding and endurance, dentists today can finish implants cases quicker than Branemark could ever have imagined. All of these improvements, and more, are a natural progression of the technology that began almost 50 years ago. It is expected that the titanium dental implant, much like Branemark’s original, will remain the workhorse in the dental profession for at least the next 20 years.

Future consideration will likely involve the use of stem cells to grow bone and perhaps even teeth. It is not out of the realm of possibility to imagine a day when a tooth bud could be created in a laboratory setting and then transferred by a dentist to a patient’s jaw in order to develop, grow and then erupt into the missing tooth space on its own. Now that would truly be the future of implant dentistry.

Dr. James Harding practices dentistry at the Harding Dental Center, in Avon. He is a medical provider for the US Ski and Snowboard Team and is on the teaching staff at the Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies. For more information, call 845-9980 or go to

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