Ancient Dental Implants Found!

Being that cosmetic dentistry is our business, our raison d’être, when we hear news about dental implants, we get a little excited. Nothing could have prepared us for the news that came from an archaeology site in Europe: ancient dental implants were found in a woman’s mouth…who had died 2,300 years ago!

The Find

The woman seems to have died in her 20s sometime in the Iron Age. She was found in La Villeneuve-au-Chêne, northern France. Archaeologists found her buried nearby the graves of three other women, in a well-furnished burial chamber. Unfortunately, her body was not well preserved. In spite of this, her teeth were found “in an anatomical position, with the molars, pre-molars, canines and incisors,” according to Gauillaume Seguin. Mr. Seguin, who was part of the team that unearthed the body, then noticed a piece of metal in her mouth.

Earliest Dental Implant

Seguin soon realized that this piece of metal constituted part of a dental implant. The implant came in the form of an iron pin found in place of an upper incisor tooth, from which a false tooth would have been attached. It’s an impressive feat of engineering. That said, the plant was not functional. Meaning that, the tooth was implanted after death. The implant would have been far too painful to endure and use while alive. Instead, it was probably implanted for aesthetic reasons.

Culture of the Time

The burial of the woman with the implant and the others contained various pieces of value: bronze jewelry, belt ornaments, coral and amber necklaces as well as an iron currency bar demonstrating features consistent with the Celtic La Tene culture.

Celtic La Tene culture once thrived across Central and Western Europe in the time between roughly 450 B.C. and the downfall of the Celts in Western Europe in the 1st century B.C. at the hands of Julius Caesar. The La Tene culture was famous for advanced forms of metalwork, including creating jewelry and other decorative works. Therefore, a metal dental implant was well within the expertise of La Tene metalworkers. Based on the evidence, scientists believe the iron spike, which comprised the implant, was pounded into the pulp canal of nerves and blood vessels to make sure it stayed in place. This is one of the reasons why scientists believed the implant was postmortem. In the journal Antiquity, Seguin stated that the burials  “convey the image of a social elite concerned about their appearance.”

So even as far back as the Iron Age, humans were still obsessed with their image. So much so that they of course had to look great going to the afterlife. Though the dental implant may have been installed after death, the implant still demonstrates how innovative early humans could be.

dentist-atlanta-meet-the-drDr. Hugh Flax has a passion for practicing dentistry. He takes great pleasure in changing patients’ lives through their smiles. He received his degree in dentistry at Emory University and began Flax Dental in 1987. Outside the office, Dr. Flax loves music, New Orleans, traveling and more music. Follow Great Smile Dental on Twitter and Facebook.

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Posted in: Cosmetic Dentistry

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