Science + Tech

Uncovering the truth behind ancient dental implants

celtic grave and pin
Photograph of the in situ dental remains (left). Photograph of the iron object and its association with the maxillary incisors (right). (Images: Archéosphère)

One of my favorite courses at UT Houston was the study of implantology. I had originally though implants to be new technology relying on sophisticated materials and techniques. In fact, the practice of replacing teeth was actually attempted as early as 400 B.C.! Civilizations in Egypt, South America and China are now known to have used materials such as stone, ivory, wood, seashells, animal and cadaver teeth, and gold to fill the holes in their mouths. I don’t know about you, but placing a sharp piece of anything into my jaw bone sounds less than desirable. Yet, all over the world archeologists are finding examples of humans practicing ancient dentistry. In La Chêne, France, an iron pin was discovered in the jaw of a 2,300 year old skeleton buried in a Celtic grave. Scientists are unsure whether it served an esthetic or functional purpose, but it is amazing to see early efforts to practice sophisticated dentistry.

One of the most remarkable observations is that some of these ancient implants are covered by calculus. That means the implants stayed in place for a considerable period of time, even until the death of the patient. No news on whether they were pain free throughout the patient’s life.

In the more modern era, metals such as lead, iridium, tantalum, stainless steel and titanium have been used to replace teeth. It was in the 1960’s that P.I. Branemark discovered osseointegration and was thus named the “Father of Implantology”. Today’s most popular design is the titanium threaded root-form implant. Standard procedures require two surgical phases and a prosthetic phase. I wonder what the “procedures” consisted of in B.C. times. Although we may never know how or why these ancient humans inserted dental implants, it is certain that they would be astounded by how far their primitive efforts have extended into current practices.

~Laura Nelson, Houston ’16, associate, Council on Communications


Laura Nelson

Laura Nelson is currently a fourth year dental student at the UT Houston School of Dentistry. She is Communications Council Chair for National ASDA and the Publications Editor in her local ASDA chapter. Laura will enter a Periodontics residency at UT Houston in the Summer of 2016.

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1 Comment

  1. Caroline Danvers says:

    I too am fascinated by the idea that some of our current technology is not all that new. I had no idea that implants went back so far. I hope that they also had some form of anesthesia back then too; but in general I think they were tougher than folks these days. I have one bridge and a single implant already, and I am so grateful that I don’t have to be in dentures at my age.

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