The loss of a tooth is not only a cosmetic problem (especially when it’s in a visible part of the mandible), it is also a triggering factor for multiple dental issues. The teeth that are beside the newly vacant space have the tendency to migrate towards the open space this way generating various problems such as: overuse of the unaffected side, root decay, gum disease and temporal-mandibular joint complications.
In medical history, there have been recorded several attempts in finding a solution that varied from wooden implants to different contraptions that should have kept the surrounding teeth from changing their normal position. Some of them were successful but only for short periods as none could offer long-term fixation of a false replacement to the mandible.
“The extraction proved to be impossible because somehow, due to aspects that were unknown at that time, the bone had fused with the object. The physician was extremely annoyed by having lost such a valuable piece of equipment and, probably, in the light of this “misfortune” did not even consider to investigate what had happened.”
An important discovery was made in this field in 1952 by Per-Ingvar Branemark (1929 – 2014), a Swedish physician and research professor from the University of Lund. His curiosity was aimed towards the function of the cells in bone marrow, more precisely, how they work to heal an injury. In this sense, he thought of using a technique that was applied in a research project at Cambridge University and consisted in the manufacturing of a small chamber with a lens that could be inserted in the tissue and would facilitate the observation of blood flow. Branemark had in mind to adapt this practice to his own needs and use the chamber in his study regarding bone marrow. As in many other cases, his intentions got apparently run down by a blessing in disguise.
Branemark needed tantalum in order to produce his precious chamber, but failed to obtain it. Eventually, the planets aligned and the gods smiled upon him when he met Dr. Hans Emmaus, an orthopedic surgeon, which suggested the use of titanium instead of tantalum. Branemark took his advice, made the chamber and implanted it in the leg bone of a rabbit. He successfully used it in his study and decided to remove the chamber-lens from the bone as it had served its purpose for several months. The extraction proved to be impossible because somehow, due to aspects that were unknown at that time, the bone had fused with the object. The physician was extremely annoyed by having lost such a valuable piece of equipment and, probably, in the light of this “misfortune” did not even consider to investigate what had happened.
In 1960, Ingvar Branemark was offered a position at the University of Gothenburg. This new context permitted him to lead different studies but mostly to focus on his study regarding bone marrow cells. He remembered the problem that occurred when he wanted to remove the titanium chamber from the rabbit bone and with the help of a professor of mechanical engineering from Columbia University, Richard Skalak, decided to explore the relationship between titanium and organic tissue.
After a series of experiments, the results were clear: titanium presented no risk for live soft tissue, it was not rejected by the body and had perfectly fused with living bone structures. The process that connected titanium to the bone was named osseointegration and its discovery is the prime reason why many people are able to show off a mesmerizing smile today.
R.F.I. Sources: Winters, Robert. Accidental Medical Discoveries: Tales of Tenacity, Sagacity, and Plain Dumb Luck, Denmark, 2013 In Memoriam Ingvar Branemark: https://www.nobelbiocare.com/nz/en/home/company/media—news/articles/all/the-man-who-made-people-smile.html