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Missing teeth have been a problem throughout human history, but before the invention of the dental implant, the options to replace a tooth were not quite as effective or attractive.
Dental implants changed the possibilities for treating patients with missing teeth and opened new possibilities for clinical care for a wide range of clinical situations. But in the scheme of human history, the implant is a relatively new invention. Prior to the modern system of an implant screw serving as a root for an abutment and crown to replace a tooth, the options for replacing a tooth were far less desirable.
Here's a look at some of the materials and objects used to fill in for missing dentition prior to the dawn of the dental implant we know today.
Remains found in China dating back more than 4,000 years had carved bamboo pegs used in place of missing teeth. These pegs had been carved to fill the space of the missing tooth, and were then tapped into the jaw bone to serve as a replacement.
In Egypt some 3,000 years ago copper and other soft, precious metals have been found in the jaws of human remains. While this is the first evidence of metal implanted into a human jaw, there is some speculation that these "implants" were placed post-mortem.
Extracted animal teeth were used to replace missing human teeth dating as far back as at least 2000 years ago. This technique has been found in remains from multiple cultures from around the world, and the replacements were not limited to just teeth from animals. More on replacement teeth from other humans is coming up in this slideshow.
Among the most successful materials used in ancient times was seashells. Mayan remains dating back to the year 630 were found in 1931 with pieces of seashells used to replace a trio of missing teeth. In this case, bone growth was found around 2 of the seashell implants, demonstrating osseointegration.
Evidence of carved stones being used in early dentistry stretches back more than 1000 years. The Mayans and other cultures drilled holes in teeth to place decorative precious stones in the teeth, but remains also have been found with carved stones in the place of missing teeth, making them stones another ancient dental implant.
Similar to using human or animal teeth, ivory was an early material that might have provided a somewhat esthetic replacement tooth. This practice dates back to at least the year 300 where Phoenician remains have been found with ivory stabilized with gold wire, although these restorations resemble a bridge more than a modern dental implant.
As previously mentioned, transplanted human teeth have long been seen as a way to replace a missing tooth. This practice dates back thousands of years despite the fact that it's prone to infection, failure, and implant rejection. These human teeth have often been sourced from slaves and the underprivileged. However from the 1500s through the 1800s in Europe these teeth were also taken from cadavers, often by grave robbers.