Our teeth were designed in a harmonious and organized fashion, just like each and every particle of our body. It becomes unbearable when one tooth is missing, as this harmony is spoiled. Dentists are trying to compensate for such absences with artificial teeth called implants. This kind of application is nearly as old as human history. Most of the time, however, humanity was utterly inadequate in replicating real teeth, as many implants, shaped from wood or computer assisted technology, failed to match real teeth.
In the past, the area missing a tooth could be filled by bridge implants by eroding the enamel on neighboring teeth. In cases where there was a large gap or no teeth to use as connectors, removable implants were used. In other words, present healthy teeth would be treated to compensate for the missing teeth; if the number and health of the remaining teeth was not sufficient, removable implants would be produced that gave the "ready to fall out" feeling. The imperfections of this type of implant led scientists to pursue new ideas.
Scientists have tried to fill in missing teeth with artificial roots and with implants mounted over these by mimicking the existing tooth root. This way, there is no need to treat and erode the healthy enamel of neighboring teeth in the gap. These artificial roots, which are positioned into the jaw bone by a surgical operation, are called a "tooth implant." Modern-day implants are generally composed of two main parts.
One of these is the fixture part which is secured into the jaw bone by screws; the other is the support part (abutment) which mimics the visible parts of the tooth in the mouth. Approximately 3-4 months of curing time is required for the fusion of bone and implant (osseointegration), which is screwed together by a surgical operation. Towards the end of this time, the implant is built over the abutment. The length of time necessary for the implant to integrate with the bone to replace a tooth which can be extracted so quickly is rather noteworthy despite ongoing studies to reduce the wait time and successful attempts to do so.
Even though the main logic for implants is the mimicry of the tooth and the root, the materials utilized are quite variable. The history of such implants goes back thousands of years. The employment of bamboo sticks in tooth restorations could be seen in some civilizations, such as ancient China. Mayans used sea shells, which were recently shown to be biologically suitable as implant material. Maggiolo produced a tooth root by using gold, in 1809. In the beginning of the 20th century, Lambotte prepared implants using materials such as aluminum, silver, brass, copper, and gold.
These newer implant methods have failed because of the insufficient strength of the majority of the materials and the failure to fit into biological tissues. The initial employment of titanium and its alloys in the 1950's almost opened a new age in implantology and enabled the successful use of these materials up until today. However, these titanium implants, which are considered successful, have a very limited ability to mimic tooth roots:
As it is seen, making less successful artificial implants as opposed to real teeth is quite a cumbersome, costly, painful, and time consuming job. Despite all of these imperfections, because of their numerous advantages over traditional implants, the popularity of dental implants continues to increase, and is preferred by dentists and patients. In addition, implants are seen as an inevitable treatment option when tooth loss occurs, and may ultimately provide patient relief in the long run.
Despite progress made in implants, it's clear that our teeth were created in such a perfect way, down to the very smallest detail, that they cannot be replaced. Science is well aware of the fact that we will never fully be able to replicate tooth structure. Therefore, studies are shifting towards stem cell research. This way, instead of foreign substances, the missing tooth will be compensated as if by planting tooth seeds by using human's own cells. Nonetheless, the opportunities that are discovered via all these efforts will never replace the natural teeth that were so perfectly created for us.