Millions of people worldwide have been spared uncomfortable, ill-fitting dentures thanks to an accidental innovation by Dr Per-Ingvar Branemark, a Swedish orthopaedic surgeon and research professor who died Dec. 20, 2014, at age 85.
Dr Branemark is considered the father of modern dental implants. Dental implants look, feel and function just like healthy, natural teeth, and unlike dentures, they can provide a permanent solution to missing teeth. But the treatment of missing teeth—and the accompanying oral health problems, such as gum disease and bone loss—was not Dr Branemark’s initial intent.
To Coin a Term: Osseointegration
In the early 1950s, Dr Branemark and his research team were studying the effects of blood flow on bone healing. In order to gain insight into the healing process, the researchers placed optical devices encased in titanium in the lower legs of rabbits.
The scientists were surprised to discover that during the course of the study, the rabbits’ leg bones had grown around and essentially fused with the titanium inserts. Dr Branemark termed the process “osseointegration,” and according to Dr Branemark’s obituary in The New York Times, he focused his research in a new direction.
Dr Branemark believed osseointegration could allow the metal to be used as an anchor for artificial teeth.
Dental Implants: An Uphill Battle
In the 1950s and ’60s, conventional medical wisdom still held that any such foreign material inserted into the body would lead to inflammation, infection and ultimately rejection. Dr Branemark persevered, however, and soon began successful tests involving medically implanted titanium in humans.
Previous attempts at artificial teeth had been failures, and while Dr Branemark’s idea was at first not well received he eventually won research financing from the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The first successful titanium-rooted dental implants were placed in the mid-1960s, and Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare approved the so-called Branemark System in the 1970s.
Throughout the 1980s, the idea of osseointegration—as well as Branemark’s implant materials and methods—gained widespread acceptance around the globe, including the United States. A landmark advancement in dentistry, dental implants today provide patients who suffer from missing teeth with functional bites and beautiful, healthy smiles.
If you live in the Colorado Springs area and would like to learn more about the benefits of dental implants, please contact The Studio for Exceptional Dentistry online or call us at 709-602-2614 to schedule your personal consultation with Dr Andrew Hall.