How dental implants fuse to bone.
Do you have badly damaged teeth and are you thinking about getting dental implants? Though new technologies have made them better than ever, dental implants are not a recent innovation. However one important discovery changed the way we understand the process, leading to one of most significant scientific breakthroughs in dentistry’s recent history.
How it started
It all started with the discovery of osseointegration in 1952. Long word, simple meaning: the fusion of the bone to an artificial surface. Per-Ingvar Brånemark, a Swedish physician heralded as the “father of modern dental implantology”, applied this concept to the field of dentistry. After early research of putting titanium rods into the legs of rabbits proved bone could fuse with metals, he spent decades researching how bone cells could grow onto metal dental implants.
He found that when dental implants were applied through controlled surgical procedures, bone cells could attach themselves directly onto its metal surface, effectively locking it into the jawbone. There was a big bonus to osseointegration: unlike with dentures or dental bridges, the process helps the jawbone heal, preventing side effects like cheek hollowing, a weakened jawbone, further tooth loss and other signs of ageing.
Now, Brånemark’s work on osseointegration is largely credited for taking dental implants into the mainstream, with the field detailed in dental school curriculum and training programs.
But people have been trying to replace teeth for centuries. Early incarnations of dental implants (blade and transosteal implants, which used metal blades and screws respectively) were thought to work through mechanical retention. As our understanding of osseointegration deepened, rootform endosteal implants became the new standard in dental implants, where material is inserted or grafted into tissue. They remain the norm today.
So how does it work?
It’s a bit of a tricky one to visualise. Bone grows around the implant—the artificial root of the new tooth—the same way that, say, coral would grow around a shipwreck. It’s actually a fusion process, where the titanium in the implant bonds directly with the human bone, essentially becoming part of the body.
Can our bones fuse onto any material?
These days, dental implants are all settled on titanium. But recent research is looking at other materials as well.
But you can’t just use any old material. It has to be biocompatible, meaning material that is accepted by the human body. Otherwise the body rejects it and pushes it out. Titanium is a material that is very biocompatible and leads the bone cells to grow onto its surface. Plus, it’s a very strong metal. Dental implants are tiny devices, so the material has to be strong enough to withstand the forces of biting.
What to do next?
Are you looking to discuss dental implants or osseointegration further, or wondering how it might benefit your own set of teeth? Contact us for more information or call to request an appointment.