Dr. Per-Ingvar Branemark The 2015 inductee to the Pierre Fauchard Academy Wall of Fame is Per-Ingvar Branemark, M.D., Ph.D. He was a Swedish physician and research professor whose accidental discovery made him the father of the modern dental implant.
The New York Times reported that in 1952, studying how blood flow affects bone healing, Dr. Branemark and his team put optical devices encased in titanium into the lower legs of rabbits. When the research period ended and they went to remove the devices, they discovered to their surprise that the titanium had fused into the bone and could not be removed.
Dr. Branemark called the process “osseointegration,” and his research took a whole new direction as he realized that if the body could tolerate the long-term presence of titanium, the metal could be used to create an anchor for artificial teeth.
During a long period of safety testing, to make sure that titanium would not be rejected by the body, Dr. Branemark enlisted about 20 students working in his lab to have titanium instruments inserted into their upper arms. Dr. Branemark’s first titanium dental implant patient, in the mid-1960s, was Gosta Larsson, a man with a cleft palate, jaw deformities and no teeth in his lower jaw. The operation giving him four titanium implants allowed Mr. Larsson to use dentures until his death four decades later.
For years, Dr. Branemark’s applications for grants to study implants anchored in bone tissue were rejected. The United States National Institutes of Health finally financed the project, and in the 1970s, Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare approved the Branemark implants.
Dr. Branemark was awarded the Swedish Engineering Academy’s medal for technical innovation, the Swedish Society of Medicine’s Soderberg Prize and the European Inventor Award for Lifetime Achievement, along with many other honors and honorary degrees.
Dr. Branemark died on Dec. 20, 2014, in Gothenburg, Sweden, his hometown. He was 85.