Dental implantology has made huge strides in just the past 20 years - but the concept is anything but new.
The idea of a tooth replacement anchored permanently into the jaw has been around since antiquity. Archeologists know the ancient Egyptians tried to implant precious stones into the jawbone where teeth were lost. Half a world away, Mayan ruins in Mexico turned up jawbones with tooth implants carved from seashells.
Tooth loss is one of humankind's most common afflictions - and permanent replacement one of dentistry's fondest dreams. If you have a missing tooth or teeth, you probably understand why.
Fast-forward now from the Third Dynasty to today's dental research labs. Three major research advances - all in the past 15 years - combined to make dental implants practical and workable in a wide range of patients.
Tooth implants substitute the rooting of 32 individual teeth with a few metal anchor posts onto which snaps either an overdenture or a fixed bridge. Investigators found that posts made of the metal titanium were strong, non-toxic over years in the mouth, and biologically compatible.
The next critical discovery was the concept of "osseointegration" - in which the healing jawbone actually grows into the dental implant post. This union is capable of sealing harmful bacteria out of the bone tissue.
Credit the computer revolution with the final critical breakthrough: Computerized Tomography (CT) can be used to develop a model of the jawbone's surface. This eliminates the need for preliminary surgery required to make impressions of the jawbone. For certain patients CT imaging can make tooth implant surgery a one-step procedure.
Teeth implants aren't for everybody. But research technicians have expanded its potential beyond the dreams of - well, certainly Ramses II.