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Dentistry Ohio

Dental Implants and the Legacy of Dr. Per-Ingvar Branemark

  It isn’t the least bit uncommon in the midst of ongoing research for the research team to stumble onto some sort of accidental discovery.  For example, in 1952 Swedish orthopedic surgeon Dr. Per-Ingvar Branemark was conducting research regarding the impact of blood flow during the healing of injured bone.  As a part of the research Dr. Branemark’s team surgically implanted titanium metal pods containing optical devices, into the lower legs of rabbits to study the healing process within their bones.  When it came time to remove the devices they discovered that the titanium cases had fused to the bone and  they couldn’t be removed.  Dr. Branemark referred to the fusion of the titanium to the bone as “osseointegration”.

Almost immediately it occurred to Dr. Branemark that there could be useful applications for this discovery of osseointegration.  A recent New York Times article sites a story from the mid-1960’s when Dr. Branemark was working with “a man with a cleft palate, jaw deformities and no teeth in his lower jaw.”  Dr. Branemark came up with a way to implant four pieces of titanium into the patient’s lower jaw.  Until his death four decades later the patient used those four titanium implants to successfully anchor a lower denture. 

Today Dr. Branemark is known as “the father of the modern dental implant”.  And while Dr. Branemark was not a dentist, he received an honorary degree and  American Dental Association membership from the ADA Board of Trustees in 2008 for his dedication to the profession of dentistry.  “I think what impresses me the most,” said Dr. John Dmytryk, Periodontics professor at the Univ. of Oklahoma College of Dentistry, and ADA Council on Scientific Affairs member, “is that Dr. Branemark’s ability to think beyond his own medical specialty area allowed him to take a serendipitous finding and apply it to dentistry, leading to the development and widespread acceptance of dental implants.” 

That “widespread acceptance” was far from immediate.  It wasn’t until well into the 1970’s that Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare approved Dr. Branemark’s use of dental implants.  Internationally it was a 1982 professional meeting in Toronto, Ontario where Dr. Branemark was able to tell the osseointegration story to the world.  Rather quickly his research and techniques gained generalized recognition and today the seeds planted by Dr. Branemark in 1952 are yielding fruit across dental, medical and veterinary arenas. 

On December 20th of last year Dr. Branemark died in his hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden.  We’ve lost a medical pioneer with awards and honors too lengthy to list.  Are you are one of the millions of patients with a titanium dental implant, or maybe a prosthetic knee or hip?  Or maybe your dog or cat or horse is benefiting from a titanium prosthesis of some sort.  Indeed the world is indebted to Dr. Branemark’s accidental discovery and his creative vision on a number of levels.  His spirit will live on through the ongoing research and creativity tied to his original discovery of osseointegration.  

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