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Imagine this: An implant surgeon is performing a thorough examination of your mouth. The surgeon rotates your jaw from side to side and up and down, looking for the optimal sites in which to place dental implants — and the proper size, shape and orientation for the implants to have. He or she may test several alternatives, considering the underlying anatomical structures, and the bone density and quality that the examination reveals. Finally, a surgical plan is developed: This includes a set of precise specifications for implant position, size and depth, and a template for creating a perfectly fitting set of replacement teeth. But no invasive procedures of any type have been performed so far. In fact, you aren't even present.

Welcome to the world of computer-guided dental implant surgery. What we have described is one step in the process that allows you to receive a set of replacement teeth with the minimum amount of surgery (and time spent in the dental chair), and the maximum level of preplanning foresight. It can result in faster overall treatment time, less discomfort, and an outcome that pleases everyone. Let's look a little more closely at the entire process of computer-guided implant surgery — a procedure at the forefront of dental implant technology.

The First Phase: Making A Virtual Model

It all begins with a complete examination and modeling of your existing teeth, gum and jaw structures. In many cases, a physical impression (replica) of the jaws is made, which will aid in planning the location of the new teeth. But the modeling doesn't stop there: A high-tech, three-dimensional CT (computed tomography) scan is also performed. This allows us to examine the structures (including bone, nerve tissue and sinus cavities) which lieinside the jaw. It is often accomplished using “cone-beam” CT technology, in which the scanning device quickly captures a complete digital image of internal structures as it rotates around your head.

The next step of the process relies on powerful computers and sophisticated software to take the raw CT scan data and translate it into a 3-D model of the jaw. This virtual model can be manipulated on a computer screen — rotated, measured, even “operated” on — so that we can visualize the placement of dental implants and determine their optimum position with a high degree of accuracy. Using this technology, it's now possible for us to evaluate anatomical structures virtually — structures it once would have taken surgery to reveal — and to plan out the implant procedure accordingly.

The 3-D model we have developed is then used for two purposes: to create a precise guide for the implant surgery, and to allow the dental laboratory to pre-manufacture a set of replacement teeth that will fit precisely in the jaw. An advanced set of CAD/CAM (computer aided design/manufacture) processes is used to generate the physical objects — in this case, the surgical guide and the prosthetic teeth. Depending on your individual situation, the new teeth may be attached the same day as implant surgery, or after a healing period of 6 to 12 weeks. In either case, our precision modeling ensures that they will fit perfectly with the implants and the jaw.

Implant Surgery: Following the Plan

The implant surgery itself is typically performed under local anesthesia, and often requires no sutures (stitches). In the surgical procedure, the template we have produced (which resembles a nightguard or athletic mouthguard) is securely (but temporarily) fixed in position on the jaw. The openings in this template form precise guides for the placement of the implants — accurate in terms of position, width and depth. In fact, the implants fit so perfectly into these prepared sites that we can have new teeth placed the same day as implant surgery.

Since so many of the details have been accomplished in the planning stages, computer-guided implant surgery is typically uneventful for the patient. It can result in shorter time in the chair, less discomfort during recovery — and a highly pleasing result. It has even been called the most significant innovation in implant technology since osseointegration — the fundamental process by which a dental implant becomes fused with the bone.

Endodontics is the dental specialty that deals with tissues and structures located inside the tooth. One of the most common endodontic treatments is root canal therapy, a procedure which effectively eases the pain associated with a bacterial infection deep within the pulp of the tooth. Of course, root canal treatment doesn't just relieve pain — it also stops the infection by removing dead and dying tissue from the tooth's pulp. Plus, it helps to save the tooth, which is in danger of being lost if left untreated.

Yet root canal therapy isn't the only treatment endodontics offers. This field also deals with cases of dental trauma, performs microsurgery on the tips of the tooth's roots, and even helps figure out what's going on when tooth pain seems to come and go intermittently, or when the pain isn't localized at one tooth. So when it comes to preserving your natural teeth, endodontics has plenty of ways to help.

The Inside Story

Healthy Tooth.What's inside your teeth? Behind the tough, shiny enamel of the tooth's visible crown lies the sturdy inner tissue called dentin. Dentin is also found behind the cementum that forms the outer layer of the tooth's roots — in fact, it makes up the bulk of the tooth's structure. Similar in many ways to bone tissue, dentin is composed of many tiny tubules which can transmit sensations to nerve cells when it is stimulated.

At the core of the tooth, inside small, branching chambers called the root canals, we find the soft pulp tissue. This consists of nerves, connective tissues and blood vessels which extend into the center of the tooth and exit through canals near the apex (tip) of the tooth's roots. When problems (such as infection and inflammation) develop in the pulp tissue, your first indication of trouble may be tooth sensitivity — or intense pain. In time, as the nerves die, the pain may go away… but the problem won't. In fact, if left untreated, the end result may be tooth loss.

The “Root” of the Problem

Root canal treatment.What could cause the pulp tissue to become diseased and lead to root canal problems? One potential source of infection is untreated tooth decay, which can allow bacteria from the tooth's surface to work its way deep inside. A crack or fracture in a tooth could offer another pathway for microorganisms to infect the pulp.

Dental trauma — from a sports injury, for example — may also damage dentin or pulp, or expose it to infection. Extensive dental procedures (such as multiple fillings or restorations on the same tooth) may cause trouble; occasionally, even routine procedures like orthodontics may eventually lead to root canal problems.

Endodontic Treatment

The old gag line “I'd rather have a root canal” may still get a laugh — but root canal problems are no joke. It's important to remember that root canal treatment doesn't cause pain; it relieves pain. A typical root canal procedure is performed with local anesthetics, and doesn't cause any more discomfort than having a filling. Here's what to expect:

First, you will receive anesthesia (usually a numbing shot) — and for many patients, the worst is now over. Next, a small opening is made in the tooth surface to give access to the pulp chamber and root canals. Then, tiny instruments are used — often with the aid of a microscope — to remove dead and dying tissue from inside the narrow passages. These passages are then cleaned, disinfected, and filled with a safe, inert material. Finally, the opening in the tooth is sealed to prevent contamination.

Other endodontic treatments may be recommended for removing sources of infection and preventing future problems. Following an endodontic procedure, it may be necessary to have a restoration (such as a crown) placed on the tooth to restore it to full function and aesthetic appearance. After that, with proper care the restored tooth should last for many years.

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