The Mayan civilization has been shown to have used the earliest known examples of Dental Implants, endosseous implants (implants embedded into bone), dating back over 1,350 years before Per Brånemark started working with titanium for Dental Implants.
While excavating Mayan burial sites in Honduras in 1931, archaeologists found a fragment of mandible of Mayan origin, dating from about 600 AD.
This mandible, which is considered to be that of a woman in her twenties, had three tooth-shaped pieces of shell placed into the sockets of three missing lower incisor teeth. For forty years the archaeological world considered that these shells were placed under the nose in a manner also observed in the ancient Egyptians.
However, in 1970 a Brazilian dental academic, Professor Amadeo Bobbio, studied the mandibular specimen and took a series of radiographs. He noted compact bone formation around two of the implants which led him to conclude that the implants were placed during life.
This may be the first recorded use of Dental Implants. In the 1950s research was being conducted at Cambridge University in England to study blood flow in vivo. They devised a method of constructing a chamber of titanium which was then embedded into the soft tissue of the ears of rabbits. In 1952 the Swedish orthopaedic surgeon, P I Brånemark, was interested in studying bone healing and regeneration, and adopted the Cambridge designed ‘rabbit ear chamber’ for use in the rabbit femur.
Following several months of study he attempted to retrieve these expensive chambers from the rabbits and found that he was unable to remove them.
Per Brånemark observed that bone had grown into such close proximity with the titanium that it effectively adhered to the metal. Brånemark carried out many further studies into this phenomenon, using both animal and human subjects, which all confirmed this unique property of titanium and its unique potential for dental implants.
Although he had originally considered that the first work should centre on knee and hip surgery, Brånemark finally decided that the mouth was more accessible for continued clinical observations and the high rate of edentulism in the general population offered more subjects for widespread study. He termed the clinically observed adherence of bone with titanium as ‘osseointegration’. In 1965 Brånemark, who was by then the Professor of Anatomy at Gothenburg University in Sweden, placed the first titanium dental implant into a human volunteer who was a Swede named Gösta Larrson.
Over the next fourteen years Brånemark published many studies on the use of titanium for dental implants (implantology) until in 1978 he entered into a commercial partnership with the Swedish defence company, Bofors AB for the development and marketing of his dental implants.
With Bofors (later to become Nobel Industries) as the parent company, Nobelpharma AB (later to be renamed Nobel Biocare) was founded in 1981 to focus on dental implants and implantology. To the present day over 7 million Brånemark System implants have now been placed and hundreds of other companies produce dental implants.