Dental implants as we know them are a brand-new technology, but civilizations have been experimenting with implants for a few thousand years. Archeologists have discovered ancient Mayan remains with dental implants crafted out of seashells, and other researchers have discovered iron implants from the middle ages. But even with all this precedent, the modern–and successful–science of dental implants wasn’t invented until the late sixties, and wasn’t perfected until the early nineties. Here are some of the main principles that form the groundwork for successful dental implants in Boston, making modern varieties of these tooth replacements better than ever before.
Dental implants are made possible by a titanium implant that literally fuses to your natural jawbone tissue. This process is called osseointegration, and it was discovered completely by accident.
In 1952, a Swedish orthopedic surgeon named Per-Ingvar Brånemark was studying bone healing and blood flow by working with rabbits. Brånemark and his team had surgically installed optical devices encased in titanium into the legs of rabbits, and when they tried to remove them a few weeks later, they found that they wouldn’t budge. Brånemark realized that the titanium had fused with the bone, which led him to the idea of applications in dentistry. Brånemark worked for years to convince the heavyweights of the medical and dental fields that titanium could fuse with living tissue, but by the mid 1980’s, Brånemark’s work was seen as the incredible breakthrough that it was.
Although the science behind modern dental implants revolves around Brånemark’s early work, there have been several other notable advances in osseointegration technology. New titanium implants are made with a roughened texture that closely mimics the texture of natural bone. Because these new implants have a much larger microscopic surface area, adhesion is faster and more secure.
Because jawbone tissue tends to resorb or melt away after teeth fall out, patients who have been missing teeth for a while might not have enough bone strength for dental implants—at least not without help. Potential candidates for dental implant surgery need to have jawbone tissue that is tall, wide, and dense enough to accept an implant, which is where bone grafting comes into play.
Bone grafting can be used to bolster weakened jawbone tissue to pave the way for a dental implant. Periodontists can use harvested bone from the dental implant patient, sanitized cadaver bone fragments, or manmade grafting materials to strengthen the weakened area. By packing grafting materials into the area, dental professionals encourage the regrowth of bone. These grafts can take three months or longer to heal, but when they are fully healed, they provide a strong, stable anchoring point for dental implants.
Software that Streamlines Treatment Planning
Using high-tech laser scanners, dentists can capture 3D images of your teeth, and then use digital imagine technology to show the patient how dental implant treatment will progress. Patients and professionals can also interact with this technology, changing tooth shape, color, and even orientation to more closely match the look they’re going for.
Modern software also speeds dental implant fabrication, since scans and other measurement information can be sent electronically to labs across the country in an instant, or even to CAD/CAM equipment in the very same office. This single feature of modern software can reduce waiting time for patients by weeks.
State-of-the-Art Imaging Tools
One of the biggest challenges in implant dentistry is the proper placement of the implant. If placed poorly, dental implants can become infected, invade sinus cavities, or even fall out altogether. Fortunately, modern imaging tools have made the placement of dental implants an exact science.
Tools like computed tomography (CT) scanners use complex digital imaging techniques that map out the teeth and jaw, letting dentists view the exact depth and health of jawbone tissue. Doctors can also use CT technology to find the locations of nearby tooth roots, sinus cavities, bone, and soft tissues within a quarter of a millimeter.
New Cone Beam computed tomography systems are even more accurate, capable of reconstructing live images in any direction. This means that periodontists can view potential dental implant sites in three dimensions, reducing procedural surprises. Cone Beam technology is also less expensive and only exposes patients to 1/8th of the dose of radiation that traditional x-rays require. Finally, with dental implant planning software, dentists can lay out every stage of the procedure, and print guides that will direct their incisions and implant placements with extreme precision.
If you’re interested in learning more about dental implants, talk with a periodontist today. Periodontists receive an additional three years of specialized training in the placement of implants outside of their traditional dental school education, specially qualifying them for this delicate and complex oral surgery.