Back when Prof. Massimo Simion was beginning his career in the 1980s, implantology was what he describes as the black sheep of dentistry. There was a group of dentists in Italy who were placing implants but not following the rules, giving the treatment a bad reputation.
Because of this, Prof. Simion was hesitant to incorporate implants into his practice—but that changed when he met Prof. Per-Ingvar Brånemark and was introduced to the research supporting implant dentistry. Prof. Brånemark discovered that titanium could act as an anchor for artificial teeth, leading to the introduction of titanium implants in dentistry. His work also established osseointegration as the foundation for implant treatment success.
“I was really impressed by his research and clinical data and how serious his approach was to implants,” Dr. Simion said. “When I saw the research and data from Dr. Brånemark I started to think maybe there’s something good in implant dentistry. I started to follow the topic and became very in tune with it. The more time that passed, the more I dedicated my own career to implantology and osseointegration.”
Prof. Simion was fascinated by the research being done on guided tissue regeneration and began working with a group of prominent clinicians studying this area. Their goal was to determine the different ways a membrane could be used to regenerate bone. By the mid-1990s, the clinicians developed a predictable technique for bone regeneration that remains the gold standard today.
Prof. Simion, known as dentistry’s “father of bone regeneration,” has had an accomplished career, and is this year’s recipient of the P-I Brånemark Award for Lifetime Achievement in Dentistry. The award was created in 2015 to honor the late Prof. Brånemark and recognize exceptional clinicians who have advanced dentistry for society’s general well-being. Previous recipients include Myron Nevins, Tiziano Testori, Dr Istvan Urban, Michael Cohen and Jörg-Rudolf Strub.
And Prof. Simion certainly did that with his contribution to that groundbreaking research and by continuing to share his knowledge and expertise with the profession. Prof. Simion, who is a professor in the University of Milan’s department of periodontology and implant therapy, works in private practice and has served on and led several industry organizations over the years.
Standing The Test of Time
When Prof. Simion first started his research, his main interest was to regenerate bone in a vertical direction, making it possible to place longer implants and achieve esthetic results. The technique he developed alongside that group of leading clinicians remains mostly unchanged, a testament to the significance of their contribution.
“There’s been some progress in the details, but the main technique is unbelievably still the same,” Prof. Simion said. “So there hasn’t been big progress in the last 25 to 30 years, though now we know how to manage the soft tissue better and get better esthetics.”
Getting and Giving Support
Dr. Myron Nevins, a prominent U.S. periodontist and the first recipient of the P-I Brånemark Award, has been Dr. Simion’s main mentor throughout his career. He taught Prof. Simion how to properly conduct research and helped him expand his lecturing circuit beyond Italy to an international audience.
“He was the one who invited me to give lectures in the United States for the first time when I was 35 years old,” Prof. Simion said. “He not only taught me how to research and how to give good lectures, he promoted me and gave me the opportunity to lecture in the U.S., in Europe and the rest of the world.”
Prof. Simion also has served as a mentor, sharing his passion for guided bone regeneration and osteointegration with his students. He’s proud to watch them go on to do great things, especially knowing he helped to guide them.
“I very much enjoy teaching young doctors, especially when I see enthusiasm and passion in them,” he said. “I’ve had the privilege to teach students who are now lecturing all around the world, among them Marco Ronda and Filippo Fontana. To me, that’s a big success.”
A Rewarding Career
Researching guided bone regeneration with a group of prominent clinicians certainly stands out as a highlight that helped bring Prof. Simion to where he is today. His time on the board of the European Academy of Osteointegration is another memorable achievement.
“I served as president of that academy, which is the most important academy in Europe for implants, in 2001 and 2002 and remained on the board for more than 10 years,” Prof. Simion said. “That gave me a lot of experience in managing a scientific society and organizing congresses and meetings. It also gave me the opportunity to meet very important and intelligent people in the field of implant dentistry.”
Dr. Simion also has been on the Osteology Foundation’s board for more than 10 years, affording him similar opportunities as the academy. The board promotes bone and soft tissue regeneration concepts as well as research and education. Most recently, he was elected as president elect of the Italian Academy of Osteointegration, another important role he’s ready to take on in 2023.
Enhancing Patient Results
In recent years, there has been an increase in peri-implantitis cases, Prof. Simion said, which is why he proposed creating a hybrid implant that isn’t as susceptible to infections and peri-implant disease as a complete rough surface implant, making it safer for patients.
This isn’t a new concept, though. Another dentist had introduced the idea about 15 years ago, but it didn’t do well because the prevalence of implantitis wasn’t that high. With that changing, the availability of this type of implant surface represents an important advancement.
“Every day I teach people to use an implant that has a safe surface in the portion that’s close to the oral cavity and that comes close to the soft tissues,” he said, “and to use a rougher surface in the most apical portion where the bacteria are not supposed to be.”
Adventures Outside of Dentistry
Dentistry isn’t Prof. Simion’s only passion; he also enjoys water adventures and racing cars.
His love for filming animals in the sea came from watching a Jacques Cousteau movie when he was about six years old. Now he takes scuba diving trips three or four times a year, documenting encounters with mainly larger animals such as sharks, crocodiles and whales. One of his favorite locations is Madagascar because “the nature is fantastic both on the land and in the sea.”
Prof. Simion has a special interest in sharks, he said, and even filmed a documentary about white sharks in South Africa and Baja California.
Prof. Simion also enjoys racing cars, another passion that dates back to his youth. He started with go-karts and eventually moved on to racing Porsches, even winning a championship. While he doesn’t race anymore, he does travel with his son on the weekends for his go-kart races, a great bonding experience that also reminds him of his racing days.
“I have the same feelings and probably more emotion and stress now when he’s in the go-kart as when I was in the car,” Prof. Simion said. “It’s a very good hobby that links us together.”
A Bright Future
Of course, osseointegration and bone regeneration remain a top passion for Prof. Simion, who is committed to improving patient outcomes and further advancing bone regeneration.
While it’s difficult to say how the field will change in the next few years, one of the most promising areas is growth factors in bone regeneration, Prof. Simion said. There is very little use of growth factors in daily practice today, but that could change in the coming years.
“Growth factors can really increase efficiencies, reduce the difficulties of regenerative techniques and make surgeries less invasive,” he said. “I hope that’s something we will have available worldwide in the near future.”