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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.

There are more and more adult orthodontic patients these days, and it's not hard to figure out why. Appliances that are barely noticeable have been developed to give adults more discreet choices when it comes to orthodontic treatment. And many adults realize that investing in a smile makeover can have significant benefits, socially and professionally. Straightening teeth can be an important part of that confidence-boosting makeover process.

Healthy teeth can be moved at any age, so there's no such thing as being too old for braces. However, orthodontic treatment for adults is different in two important respects: For one thing, the growth and development of the jaws is complete in adults, so changes in actual jaw structure can't be accomplished with orthodontic appliances in the way they can with a growing child.

Secondly, periodontal (gum) disease is more prevalent in adults than in children. While you are wearing the orthodontic appliances, gentle forces will be applied to your teeth so they can move through their surrounding bone. Periodontal health plays a key role in all of this; if the gum tissues are not healthy during orthodontics, bone loss can result and weaken the long-term prognosis of your teeth. So any gum disease must be brought under control before orthodontic treatment begins. And to maintain your periodontal health, you will need to make sure to have regular professional cleanings during the orthodontics while maintaining good oral hygiene at home.

Types of Orthodontic Appliances

All orthodontic appliances work essentially the same way: by employing light, constant force to move teeth into proper alignment. But how we apply these forces can vary, as numerous innovations have become available in recent years. Some of the newer, less visible orthodontic appliances have been designed to blend more easily into an adult's personal and professional lifestyle. Types of orthodontic appliances include:

Traditional Metal Braces.Traditional Metal Braces — This is probably what you think of when you picture someone wearing braces: small metal brackets bonded to the front of the teeth. A thin wire runs through the brackets and is attached on either end to metal bands that go around a back molar.

 

Clear Braces.Clear Braces — Instead of highly noticeable metal brackets, you can have clear ones made of ceramic, plastic or a combination of both. They are hardly visible, except for the thin wire running through, but they are more susceptible to breakage than metal braces.

 

Clear Orthodontic Aligners.Clear Aligners — As an alternative to the fixed type of orthodontic appliances mentioned above, clear aligners are removable. They are actually a series of clear plastic “trays” that fit over your teeth exactly. Each tray is part of a series of trays that move your teeth a little bit at a time until they are in the proper position. Your trays are designed with the help of specialized computer software that generates a virtual model of your bite.

 

Lingual Braces.Lingual Braces — These metal braces are bonded to the back of your teeth (tongue side) so that no one can see them. That is the plus side. On the minus side, they can be more difficult to get used to wearing, and are more expensive than traditional braces.

 

After Treatment

Wearing a retainer after orthodontic treatment is crucial, no matter which type of appliance you choose and what age you happen to be. Teeth that are not held in place by a retainer long enough for new supporting bone to develop around them can drift back to their original positions, and that's certainly not something you want to see happen. You will be instructed on how to retain your new, more beautiful smile so that it continues to make you look and feel great for years to come.

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