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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.

You've no doubt heard it said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In dentistry, you might say it's worth two pounds. Maybe even thousands of dollars. That's because dental problems can become exponentially more expensive — and painful — the longer they go unaddressed. Fortunately, modern dentistry has many easy and relatively inexpensive ways to make sure that today's minor annoyance does not turn into tomorrow's major headache.

Preventive dentistry describes all the procedures used to arrest tooth decay and other diseases in the earliest stages. The goal is to keep you as healthy as possible and maintain your natural teeth for life.

Preventive Dentistry Procedures

Preventive dentistry procedures range from the most basic services that have been used successfully for decades, to recent technological innovations. These procedures include:

  • Cleanings. This is where dental health starts. There's just no substitute for physically removing disease-causing dental plaque and calculus (tartar) from your teeth — especially in hard-to-reach areas near the gum line. That's why regular professional cleanings are so important to your health.
  • Dental sealants video Dental Sealants. These invisible plastic coatings fill the tiny grooves in back teeth so they do not become havens for bacteria. They prevent cavities from forming and the need for fillings later on.
  • Fluoride. This mineral 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. If you are not getting enough from your toothpaste and drinking water, it can be applied directly to your teeth at the dental office.
  • Laser Decay Diagnosis. Laser light can be used to detect early tooth decay quickly and easily, right in the dental office — before full-blown cavities form.
  • Mouthguards. Athletic mouthguards are designed to absorb and distribute the forces of impact and minimize traumatic injury to both the hard and soft tissues of the mouth. In fact, an athlete is 60 times more likely to suffer harm to teeth when not wearing a mouthguard. The best ones are custom-made for you by your dentist.
  • Oral Cancer video Oral Cancer Screenings. Your best chance of surviving oral cancer — a disease that affects not only lifelong smokers but also young non-smokers — is early detection and treatment. Oral cancer screenings are a routine part of every regular dental exam.
  • Salivary Diagnostics. This is an exciting new development in the field of preventive dentistry. While it is in its infancy, it is already possible to detect the presence of certain diseases with a salvia test, and the technology is developing rapidly.
  • X-Rays. For around a century, dentists have been using x-rays to reveal signs of disease not visible to the naked eye. Now, with CAT scans, they have become three-dimensional and are an indispensable tool to diagnose tooth decay, gum disease, bone density, bone volume and tumors.

Your Role in Preventing Dental Disease

There's one more extremely important component of preventive dentistry: you. The procedures mentioned above can only be effective if you come in to the dental office to take advantage of them. Likewise, the importance of maintaining a good oral hygiene routine at home cannot be overstated. Daily effective brushing and flossing will go a long way toward removing the dental plaque responsible for dental disease, tooth loss, and the need for more complex dental treatment.

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