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Archaeologists discover early example of dental implant

By Dental Tribune International
June 24, 2014

LE CHÊNE, France: Archaeologists have discovered a 2,300-year-old iron pin in place of an upper incisor at a La Tène burial site in Le Chêne in northern France. The body belonged to a young woman who had been buried in a richly furnished timber chamber. The pin could be one of the earliest examples of a dental implant in Western Europe.

The iron pin may have been inserted during life to replace a lost tooth; however, as it was placed very deeply into the pulp canal of nerves and blood vessels, the archaeologists have suggested that the woman may already have been dead when the pin was placed. In that case, the implant may have been placed to improve the appearance of the corpse for the funeral service, The Guardian reported on its website.

Implantation would not only have been very painful but also have led to an infection. “Iron is not biocompatible and the absence of sterile conditions would have provoked an unfavourable host response,” the archaeologists stated.

As reported by The Guardian, the corroded piece of metal is the same size and shape as the other incisors from the woman’s upper jaw, which was destroyed, however, when the timber tomb collapsed and crushed her skull. The appearance of the implant may originally have been improved by a wooden or ivory covering.

The implant found in the Celtic grave in Le Chêne is 400 years older than one from another grave in France, found in Essonne in the 1990s.

According to the archaeologists, the finding was rather unexpected. The concept of the dental prosthesis may have been taken from the Etruscans by returning Celtic mercenaries, although dental implants of this specific kind have not been found in Etruscan contexts.

The study, titled “The earliest dental prosthesis in Celtic Gaul? The case of an Iron Age burial at Le Chêne, France”, was published in the June issue of the Antiquity journal.

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