The History of Dental Implants – Part Two
By Stuart Diamond
In this series of articles, we will explore mankind’s earliest attempts to replace missing, broken and diseased teeth. We will follow developments in dental implantation all the way to the present. We will examine breakthrough advances that will be available in the next few years.
The Middle Ages
“Take some newts, by some called lizards, and those nasty beetles which are found in fens during the summertime, calcine them in an iron pot and make a powder thereof. Wet the forefinger of the right hand, insert it in the powder, and apply it to the tooth frequently, refraining from spitting it off, when the tooth will fall away without pain. It is proven.”
The above passage is taken from a medical text from the Middle Ages.
The Middle Ages is a period of European history, ranging from 500 AD to 1500 AD, roughly coinciding with the fall of the Roman Empire to the Age of Discovery. The term is often associated with a retreat of European culture away from learning, science, and exploration.
However, if confronted with dental issues, Medieval Europeans still had a wide range of possible solutions – though most from today’s perspective are obvious quackery. Yet, as odd and strange these cures seem to us, often it was considered sage advice to the local populations.
For example, John of Gaddesden’s Rosa Anglica (circa 1314 AD) details various incantations and charms for the treatment of toothaches, including prayers to St. Apollonia on her feast day. Other dental treatments included drawing three vertical lines on parchment while touching the painful tooth with your finger – or touching a centipede with a needle and then touching the afflicted tooth.
Other European physicians saw the advice as farcical. The 14th-century French surgeon, Guy de Chauliac, stated that ‘it was a stupid rehash of the worst of medical lore.’
However, while European science and technology were foundering, other civilizations were flourishing. During this period, Islamic culture was making important advances in practical medical applications, including dentistry. Probably the most important physician of his time and the father of modern surgery was Al-Zahrawi. (He is also known as Abulcas.) He was born in Andalusia in what today is the southern part of modern-day Spain in 936 AD. He died in 1018.
His wrote at least 30 volumes detailing medical practices. Called the Kitab at-Tasrif, it took over 50 years to complete. It details hundreds of illnesses and medical conditions, as well as treatments. A portion of the work is devoted to dentistry and the replacement of missing teeth. He describes in detail the process of taking teeth that have fallen out and securing them to healthy teeth by weaving them together with silver or gold thread. If a patient’s natural teeth were not available to be reused, he suggested using ox-bone that has been carved into the appropriate shape and then secured to healthy teeth in the same manner. The work is illustrated and described in detail: “And here is the illustration of fixing two loose teeth between two sound ones, as you can see. And if one or two of the teeth should fall out, put them back in place and fix them as we have instructed and they will stay in place; but this is not to be attempted except by a painstaking and skilled surgeon. And sometimes a piece of ox bone may be worked into the shape of a tooth and fitted into the place of a [missing] tooth and fixed there as we have directed; it will remain in place and [the patient] will have the use of it for a long time.”
The Kitab-at Tasrif was translated into Latin and became to most influential medical text in Europe for the next 500 years. Even today, many of our surgical techniques and procedures can find their origins in the work of Al-Zahrawi.
For more information about the latest dental implant technologies, contact Dr. Richard Nejat at
Advanced Periodontics and Implant Dentistry
Address: 110 E 40th St #500, New York, NY 10016
Phone: (212) 581-1090