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The Tooth of the Matter

by Daniel Sean Kaye

Are you a candidate for dental implants? Here’s what you need to know.

Missing teeth have long been a problem. They make people self-conscious, can lead to other dental maladies, and the solutions—such as bridges—have often involved uncomfortable replacements that look artificial and require a great deal of care. Today, the increased acceptance of dental implants has meant a sea of change in the world of dentistry. Restorative dentists can now work miracles, creating comfortable solutions that make life better for patients everywhere.

Dental implants are manmade replacements for missing teeth, made of titanium and readily accepted by bone, explains Dr. Elizabeth Kilpatrick-Fox, of Swedesboro. There are many shapes, sizes and brands of dental implants available, she says.

“Implants are basically artificial roots to replace natural teeth,” adds Tom Boytim, a periodontist with Washington Township Dental Associates. “They can also support appliances to replace all teeth. When successful, they integrate with and bond to the jaw bone.”

“Implants are the No. 1 way to restore a lost tooth,” says Howard Lassin, DMD, MAGD, whose practice is in Cherry Hill. Certified in implant restoration, Lassin takes advanced prosthetic training that enables his team to create aesthetic and functional tooth and teeth replacements. Lassin believes dental implants have revolutionized prosthodontics and the way missing teeth are replaced. “They’ve become the standard of care for the replacement of teeth because they allow a missing tooth to be restored without affecting the other teeth or tissues,” he says. “In the past, if you were missing a tooth, you’d receive a fixed bridge, but now dental implants are the ultimate solution.”

Who wants implants?
There are two basic categories of people who may desire implants, says Lassin. “The first are patients who are missing teeth and have been wearing dentures for years, either partially or completely. Implant work for these individuals improves existing dentures or creates a more comfortable one,” he says. “For people missing teeth, we want to improve their dentures or make them a ‘better’ denture.”

The second group has suffered an injury. “This may be from a fall, resulting in irreversible damage. They may have a tooth that has cracked poorly or was not repaired correctly. They could have had a failed root canal or maybe advanced gum disease, which is especially common in people 50 years or older,” says Lassin. Other traumatic reasons could include dental issues from cancer therapy or head/neck surgery.

“Anyone healthy enough to undergo a dental extraction or oral surgery [might be good for an implant],” explains Fox. “Dental implants can be placed in people 18-90 years old if they have good overall health.”

Benefits and advantages
Fox says some common benefits to having implants include improved appearance, speech, comfort (the patient is no longer burdened with teeth that can come out and have to be put back in), self-esteem, oral health, convenience and durability. They also feel and look like natural teeth, she says.

“Since they are made of titanium, they never decay,” says Lassin. “And maintenance is simple—you treat them as you would real teeth. That means brushing, flossing and regular checkups.”

Boytim adds that the advantage of implants over bridges is that no other teeth need to be ground down. “An implant is independent of adjacent teeth, whereas a bridge is connected to the adjacent teeth,” says Boytim. “They can last a lifetime, or at least many years.”

Treatment
“In general, from my experience, implant surgery is well tolerated and much less painful than people expect,” says Lassin, who restores every day. “My patients say that implant surgery is fairly gentle, and they tolerate it very well. Of course, if you have six to eight implants you’re going to be a little sore. Everyone is different, of course.”

“Treatment is done comfortably in the office. Most patients are back to work the next day. Treatment varies in time and money depending on what the patient needs or wants,” says Fox. “Dental implants need to be cared for like natural teeth. Implants have a greater than 98 percent success rate after 10 years. With good care, many implants will last a lifetime.”

Often teeth can be placed on the same day implants were installed, adds Lassin. “More and more are doing it. It’s very technical, so you want the best surgeons to do these implants.”

Final thoughts
Some people might not be right for implants. “For instance, they fail much more frequently in smokers or in people with uncontrolled diabetes,” says Boytim. “Also, they require maintenance and follow-up. Without those things, they can get bacterial infections and fail.

“An exam is necessary to know if there is enough bone to place them. X-rays are necessary as well as a clinical evaluation. Sinuses can be in the way or there may not be a sufficient thickness of bone. These require ridge modification surgery to attempt to build up the bone before the implant can be surgically inserted,” he says.

It’s important to keep in mind there is no perfect solution, Boytim adds. “[Implants] can fail. They can break. They can become infected. A person’s bite may cause so much lateral stress, they can weaken.”

Lassin says the interesting thing about implants is that the field is always changing. When implants first arrived in America in the mid-80s, he says the whole dental world shifted. “Ever since, there have been many advancements,” he says. “They have become comfortable, their value is priceless, and you can have ‘teeth in a day.’ They work very well.

“The one thing I’d suggest,” adds Lassin, “is that patients make sure they have their restorative dentist be the first person involved. They should learn what he is going to create with implants. They should also talk to patients who have them, investigate and consult with others.”

RESOURCES

Dr. Elizabeth Kilpatrick-Fox
1507 Kings Highway
Swedesboro
(856) 467-1100
FoxDentist.net

Dr. Howard Lassin
1401 N. Kings Highway
Cherry Hill
(856) 795-8080
LassinDentistry.com

Washington Township Dental
474 Hurffville Crosskeys Road
Sewell
(856) 582-1000
WashingtonTownshipDental.com

Published (and copyrighted) in the Art of Living Well pull-out section of Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 8 (October, 2012).
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