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Although modern implant dentistry has been practiced since the 1970s, archeological evidence reveals that the genesis of implants actually dates back hundreds if not thousands of years earlier. The Mayans were the first civilization on record to experiment with using dental implants to replace missing teeth. Archeologists discovered Mayan skulls with tooth replacements dating back to 600 AD!
Although the Mayans clearly recognized the value of replacing missing teeth with dental implants, the variety of materials used to construct these early tooth replacements suggests that their success probably fluctuated. The Mayans experimented with fashioning dental implants out of jade, carved stone, and shards of seashells, all of which were discovered in ancient skulls. Even with the limitations of crude materials and archaic tools, however, some implants actually fused into the jawbone!
Early civilizations were on the right track, but it wasn’t until 1952 that the missing piece required for successful dental implant integration finally fell into place. The missing link revealed itself when an orthopedic surgeon studying bone healing placed a small titanium cylinder in a bone and found he could not extract it. The titanium had fused to the bone through a process that later became known as osseointegration, the key element behind the successful placement of modern dental implants.
Although they were initially marketed as an alternative to dentures for patients missing all of their natural teeth, today’s implants can be used to replace any number of teeth. This versatility is one of the chief advantages to replacing missing teeth with implants rather than dentures or bridges. Contemporary implants can be adapted to the individual oral health needs of the patient. In a similar vein, the original one-size-fits-all design where all implants shared the same circumference has since been replaced. Today’s implants come in an array of sizes and shapes since they are customized to match the teeth they replace.