Thursday, August 13, 2015

Good-bye to an Implant Innovator

Christmas time 2014 was a sad time for those of us who regularly restored dental implants.  The innovator of the osseointegrated dental implant passed away.  Per-Ingvar Branemark died at the age of 85 of a heart attack in his home town of Gothenburg, Sweden.  The interesting trivia is this development of dental implants was basically an accident.  At the start of his career Branemark was studying blood flow affects on bone healing in 1952.   As part of this study he was encased in embedding titanium into the legs of various mammals and when the research ended he went to remove the titanium devices and discovered that it had fused to be bone and could not be removed.  He called this process osseointegration and at that time his research took on a totally different direction.  Interestingly enough, wanting to broaden his test subjects he actually enlisted 20 students working in his laboratory to have titanium instruments inserted in their upper arms.  Apparently every male in the laboratory was considered a volunteer and many of them have scars to this very day.  But even after years of experimentation it was difficult to convince the medical and dental establishments that titanium could be integrated into living tissue.  The conventional wisdom that the introduction of any foreign material into the body would inevitably lead to inflammation and ultimate rejection.  Dr. Branemark was further challenged in his work and at lecture in 1969 he was challenged by one of the senior academics of Swedish dentistry who referred to a Reader’s Digest article involving Dr. Branemark saying, “this may prove to be a popular article but I simply do not trust people who publish themselves in Readers Digest.”  As it happened, that senior academic was also well know to the Swedish public for recommending a particular brand of toothpicks, so Dr. Branemark immediately rose up and struck back saying, “I do not trust people who advertise themselves on the backs of boxes of toothpicks.”   Following that, the United States Institute of Health financed his projects and in the mid 70s Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare approved Branemark's implants which would therefore replace the implant systems that I learned at UCLA in dental school in the early 70s, which were blade implants and subperiosteal implants, which were often prone to rejection, which is the reason for the distrust of Brandenmark's research.  The turning point came in 1982 in Toronto where he finally won wide spread recognition for his materials and methods.  His dental implant system is currently sold by Novel Biocare, a publicly traded company, but there are many many different implant suppliers in the United States at this time.  I personally restore more than 6 brands of implants from different surgeons.  In addition to dental implants, this research has gone a long way to provide the millions of people with other osseo integrated replacements.  So even if you are not a dental implant patient, you may have an artificial hip or knee, then you should take a moment to thank Dr. Per-Ingvar Branemark for his help in resolving your complex medical needs.  Thanks again Dr. Branemark we miss you and our prayers go with your family.

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