A stent is a device used in medical procedures. It is a small mesh tube inserted into arteries during angioplasty and other heart procedures, or used to construct new ureters, or for various other procedures that require the building or repairing of a pathway for bodily fluids. Stents are most often constructed of metal mesh but are sometimes made from fabric. There are even special stents that are coated in medicines meant to time-release throughout the entire time the stent is in place. It is a common enough medical device and most of us have heard of it. But where did the name come from?
The stent is an example of one medical discipline borrowing techniques from another. Good ideas are always copied by people who recognize how much someone else’s idea can do for them. In this instance the development of the modern-day stent is no different.
In 1856, English dentist Charles Stent created an improved type of dental impression compound. By adding certain materials to the compound already in use, he was able to develop a compound that had much greater plasticity and which was less likely to shrink or become misshapen. It became widely known as “Stent’s material” and was used for making dental molds. A Dutch plastic surgeon, Jan Esser, used the term “Stent material” in 1916. He was describing how to use this dental impression compound as a lattice-work to build skin tissue during reconstructive surgery. Decades later, in 1969, a vascular radiologist by the name of Charles Dotter developed the first arterial “stent” and successfully implanted it into the femoral artery of a dog. “Stent’s mass” is the term used to describe a compound specially shaped to keep the grafted mesh tube in place. It would be some time before this application of a stent would be accepted as safe by the medical community. The first time modern stents were used in humans was in the 1980s.
So, not only do we have to trace the word back through time to find its origins, but tracing the etymology of this word takes us through these three widely different disciplines: heart surgery, plastic surgery and dentistry.
What we know today as a stent bears no resemblance at all to the material that gave it the name. One has to wonder what the 19th century dentist Charles Stent would think to see his invention so widely used in branches of medicine other than dentistry.
Sources: The Pierre Fauchard Academy