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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.

Fluoride Toothpaste.Fluoride is a mineral that is naturally present to some degree in both fresh and salt water sources. Its major dental benefit is that it is readily incorporated into the teeth's mineral structure, thereby making them stronger and more decay-resistant. Fluoride can even reverse tiny cavities that are starting to form. Less tooth decay means you have a better chance of avoiding significant dental treatments — and keeping your natural teeth for life.

The great majority of toothpastes sold today contain fluoride, because it's an effective, easy and inexpensive way to prevent tooth decay and promote oral health. Because of its proven health benefits, fluoride is often added to municipal water supplies to bring them to the current recommended level of 0.70 parts per million. In fact, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently named community water fluoridation as one of the most significant public health achievements of the 20th century.

Making Fluoride Available to the Teeth

Fluoride can be delivered to teeth in two ways: topically (on the surface) and systemically (through the body). The first method helps people of all ages; the latter is only beneficial in childhood while the permanent teeth are forming beneath the gum line — up to about age 9.

Fluoride ingested in drinking water can reach teeth both ways. When swallowed, it travels through the body and becomes incorporated into developing teeth; it also stays in the mouth throughout the day in a very low concentration. Toothpaste and mouthwashes provide higher concentrations over shorter periods of time. Fluoride can also be applied directly to the teeth at the dental office; children who get their water from unfluoridated sources may be prescribed a fluoride supplement in the form of pills or drops.

How Much Do You Need?

Tooth Caries Balance.

The amount of fluoride you need varies according to your particular risk for decay, which is determined by many factors: your body's own biochemistry, your diet, the amount of fluoride you come into contact with daily, and the effort you put into your own oral hygiene. If you maintain an effective daily routine of brushing and flossing, and avoid sugary and/or acidic foods and beverages, your decay risk will likely be low. If you are lax about oral hygiene, drink soda and snack throughout the day, your risk will be much higher.

Poor oral hygiene and constant intake of sweets make an ideal environment for decay-causing bacteria, which need sugar to thrive. In the process of digesting that sugar, they create tooth-eroding acids as a byproduct. And if you drink beverages that are already acidic — soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, even some fruit juices — you are applying those tooth-destroying acids directly to your teeth without using bacteria as a middleman. In that case, you might benefit from fluoride treatments at the dental office and/or regular use of a fluoride mouthrinse.

Fluorosis.However, there is such a thing as too much fluoride — particularly when it comes to children. If developing teeth absorb too much fluoride, they can become permanently stained or even pitted — a condition referred to as enamel fluorosis. It is not dangerous, but may require cosmetic dental work. That's why young children should not be allowed to swallow fluoride toothpaste. Adults who take in excessive fluoride throughout their lifetimes may become more prone to bone fractures or tenderness, a condition known as skeletal fluorosis. Severe forms of enamel or skeletal fluorosis are not common in the United States. Still, given that excessive doses of fluoride could cause problems, it's best to consult a dental professional on the most appropriate products for you and your child to use.

Related Articles

Fluoride - Dear Doctor Magazine

Fluoride and Fluoridation in Dentistry The Center for Disease Control says that water fluoridation is “One of the ten most important public health measures of the 20th century.” Extensive systematic reviews of the evidence conclusively show that water fluoridation and fluoride toothpastes both substantially reduce dental decay. Learn why through the amazing fluoride story... Read Article

Topical Fluoride - Dear Doctor Magazine

Topical Flouride Fluoride has a unique ability to strengthen tooth enamel and make it more resistant to decay. That's why dentists often apply it directly to the surfaces of children's teeth after routine dental cleanings. This surface (topical) application can continue to leach fluoride into the tooth surface for a month or more... Read Article

Tooth Decay - Dear Doctor Magazine

Tooth Decay — A Preventable Disease Tooth decay is the number one reason children and adults lose teeth during their lifetime. Yet many people don't realize that it is a preventable infection. This article explores the causes of tooth decay, its prevention, and the relationship to bacteria, sugars, and acids... Read Article