Even our ancient ancestors realized the value of strong teeth and healthy gums. For early hunter-gatherers, it was no doubt difficult to tear meat from bones and chew wild vegetables without a full set of ivories. At the dawn of civilization, it may have been impossible to replace missing teeth, and reasons for protecting teeth undoubtedly were related to utility rather than appearance. But, for more than 1,000 years, humans have developed dental implants to replace missing or damaged teeth with suitable substitutes.
Dental Implants Have Long History
From ancient societies to colonial America, replacements have been fashioned of various natural materials. Archeological investigation of Mayan ruins confirms that, as early as 600 AD, shell fragments and carved stones were occasionally inserted into human gums. Examination has proved that some of these implants became fused to underlying bone and, undoubtedly, served quite well.
Partial and whole-mouth dentures later became the norm for missing teeth, and they too were fabricated from a variety of materials. Contrary to common belief, George Washington’s dentures were not made of wood; an existing set now displayed at Mount Vernon was made from animal as well as human teeth, ivory and lead.
Accidents Lead to Progress
In the 1950s, however, a Swedish orthopedic surgeon accidentally discovered that titanium possesses the ability to bond with living human bone tissue. It was a revolutionary step in the progression of dental care. Since then, the term osseointegration has been used to define the biological basis of implant success.
In the years since, numerous refinements have been made; today, most dental implants worldwide mimic the shape and function of the tooth’s root, and are designed to actually ‘become’ part of the jaw structure in order to support an artificial tooth or crown that is natural looking and fabricated of porcelain or another material to blend with real teeth.
Early titanium implants were smooth. It then became apparent that the time required for successful integration with bone was shorted if the metal surface was roughened. Today, rough is the standard, and the time lag between surgical insertion and successful bonding has been reduced to approximately six weeks. That does not mean, though, that you will face a six-week delay before you can be fitted with a pretty new tooth or crown.
Today, just as in construction, great leaps have been made in implant site preparation; the roots can be set in the jawbone so securely that little or no time is needed before installing the tooth. The tooth is actually threaded onto the root much like a carpenter screws a table top onto its legs. In some cases, ‘immediate loading,’ essentially same-day service, is possible.
Other advances allow a single root to support two or more teeth; in some cases, a full set of teeth may rest atop only four implanted roots. Implants may supplement removable dentures and bridges, or they may be used as support structures.
You Have a Choice
Got questions about how to replace lost teeth? Ask Dr. Jeanne Salcetti about your options, which may include dental implants if you have lost strategic teeth or if you suffer from progressive gum disease. Know, however, that today there is little reason to fear the worst if your dental professional suggests an implant. At Salcetti & Associates, we strive to give our patients the information that supports individual needs, as well as lifestyle and budget.
Know that, unlike our first president, you do not have to suffer from frequent toothaches; nor will you wear dentures fabricated from lead and animal teeth!