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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.

Mother and Child.Root canal treatment is a safe and effective way to stop many kinds of tooth pain, and to keep a tooth from being lost due to decay or injury. But if a root canal is recommended for your young child, you may wonder why: Isn't that baby tooth going to fall out in a few years anyway?

That's true — the primary (baby) teeth typically are shed between the ages of 6 and 12 years. Yet there are some good reasons for trying to save baby teeth for as long as possible with root canal treatment, rather than simply extracting any that are damaged by trauma or infection.

For one, primary teeth have the same functions as adult teeth — and a missing tooth at any age can cause problems with speech and eating. Baby teeth also have another important role: They serve as guides for the proper placement of the permanent teeth. Without primary teeth to guide them in, permanent teeth tend to emerge in a crooked fashion, often becoming tilted or crowded because of inadequate space. This can result in bite problems that may require extensive orthodontic treatment later.

Saving The Tooth Is Always Best

Root canal treatment for children.Unlike its hard outer surface, the soft pulp inside the tooth is rich in blood vessels and nerves. Problems in this area are often signaled by tooth sensitivity and pain. When these symptoms occur, radiographs (x-rays) are often necessary to confirm that the pulp is diseased, or dying. That's when treatment is needed, before an abscess or further infection can develop.

In severe cases, the tooth may need to be removed, and a space maintainer installed to fill the gap. But many times, space maintainers don't fully restore the tooth's functionality. Plus, they are susceptible to coming loose and must be monitored constantly. If possible, other treatment methods are preferred, such as:

  • Indirect pulp treatment. If pulp damage is minimal, it's possible to remove most of the decay (but not the pulp), apply an antibiotic, and then seal the tooth up again; that's referred to as an “indirect” treatment.
  • Pulpotomy. Alternatively, if decay is limited to the upper portion of the pulp, we may recommend a “pulpotomy.” This involves removing the damaged part of the pulp, stabilizing the remaining healthy portion, and then disinfecting and sealing the tooth. This “partial” root canal is a time-tested technique that's successful in many cases.
  • Pulpectomy. If pulp tissue is infected through the entire tooth structure, a pulpectomy may be needed, which requires the removal of all pulp tissue. The canals are then disinfected, shaped, then filled and sealed with inert material. Afterwards, the crown (visible part) of the tooth will be restored. This resembles traditional root canal therapy, with a crucial difference: The sealant we use in children is capable of being dissolved by the body. That way, when it's time for a permanent tooth to erupt, the baby tooth's roots can be naturally absorbed and tooth development can proceed normally.

Preparing for Your Child's Root Canal Treatment

As you probably already know, most of the legends you may have heard about root canal therapy simply aren't true. In fact, the procedure generally causes little discomfort, but is quite successful in relieving tooth pain! Dentists are adept at using anesthesia to block the sensation of pain, and are experienced in calming the fears of young ones. While it's understandable that you may be nervous, it will help if you don't let your child pick up on your own anxiety. A calming voice and a gentle touch can do much to relieve stress.

After a thorough examination, the best options for your child's treatment will be recommended. These procedures are routine and follow-up instructions will be provided. A root canal is nothing to fear: Think of it as a treatment that may save your child from some tooth pain now, and potentially a lot of corrective dental work later on.

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