05/04/2015  |  
The Legacy of Dr. Branemark

You may not recognize the name of the Swedish orthopedic surgeon and medical researcher Per-Ingvar Branemark, who recently passed away at the age of 85 — but you’ve probably heard of his invention. Dr. Branemark is considered the father of the modern dental implant, one of the greatest advances in dentistry in the past 50 years.

These small devices make it possible to replace one missing tooth, a group of several teeth, or an entire arch (top or bottom jaw of teeth), with natural-looking and fully functional prostheses. The new teeth are securely anchored by small titanium posts that serve as tooth root replacements. These actually become fused with the bone in the jaw; crowns and bridgework attach to them. This not only allows implants to function and “feel” just like natural teeth — it also prevents bone loss in the jaw, which would otherwise occur through the inevitable process known as resorption.

Even more amazing, Dr. Branemark never set out to invent a tooth-replacement system — he was studying the healing process in bone tissue. In 1952, as part of a research study, he and his team inserted titanium-covered viewing devices into the bones of rabbits. When the experiment ended, however, he discovered the devices couldn’t be removed: The titanium metal had actually fused to the bone itself, in a process he called osseointegration (“osseo” – bone; “integration” – fusion or joining with).

Dr. Branemark realized that this unique property of titanium could have many uses in medicine — including tooth replacement. But his discovery wasn’t embraced by the medical community overnight… not even after some 20 student volunteers in his lab had small titanium inserts placed in their upper arms. In fact, it took three decades before dental implants became widely accepted as clinically safe and effective.

Flash forward to today: Titanium implants have been successfully used for over thirty years in a wide variety of dental, medical and veterinary applications. Dr. Branemark’s dental implant system has undergone decades of testing and improvement, and is now manufactured by a publicly traded healthcare company. And countless people have been spared the problems of missing teeth and the inconvenience of dentures via the “magic” of osseointegration.

That’s a significant legacy indeed; thanks, Dr. Branemark.

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