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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.

Mouthguard.Today most adults recognize that leading a healthy, active lifestyle is a big plus. Moderate exercise has been shown to help lower blood pressure, keep cholesterol levels under control, and even reduce feelings of anxiety or depression. To stay active, some 150 million adults in the United States get involved in sports or physical recreation every year. And every year, some of those active folks wind up being treated for sports-related dental injuries.

Who is apt to suffer this kind of injury? Men are more likely than women, but only by a few percentage points. For both sexes, the injury rate falls off rapidly after the teen years — although older athletes tend to have more severe problems. But if you thought that contact sports like football and hockey produced the greatest number of injuries…then it's time to think again: Adult males are far more likely to be injured playing basketball!

Baseball, bicycling, handball, skiing, surfing and equestrian sports — plus some two dozen others — are activities that the American Dental Association (ADA) has identified as potential causes of dental injury in adults.

Don't get us wrong: There's no question that the benefits of physical activity far outweigh the possibility of being hurt. But when serious dental injury occurs, it can result in pain, time taken away from work or the family, and high treatment costs — which often aren't covered by insurance. If you had a piece of equipment, endorsed by the ADA, which could reduce the risk of sports-related dental injury by 60 times… would you use it?

An Indispensable Part of Your Sports Gear: The Mouthguard

Athletic mouthguards.

A high-quality, custom-made mouthguard should be part of every athlete's equipment. What's a mouthguard? It's a small protective device that fits over your teeth and absorbs the force of an impact, helping to protect the mouth from damage. There are different kinds of mouthguards, available from various sources. They include:

  • “Off-the shelf” types. Found in some sports retailers and big-box stores, these inexpensive guards come in S-M-L sizes, and are generally worn by clenching them between the teeth. They are probably better than nothing, if you don't mind wearing them—but they can be uncomfortable, and are of uncertain quality.
  • “Boil and bite” guards. This type of mouthguard is meant to be softened by heat, and then molded into shape by fingers, teeth and tongue. It's a better choice than the first kind, but there can be wide variation in how much mouth coverage these guards provide—and in their effectiveness.
  • The custom-fabricated mouthguard. This is the one that's made just for you: First a model of your teeth is prepared, and then is individually fabricated into a piece of protective gear for a perfect fit. It's strong, lightweight and comfortable — which means you can wear it comfortably. Because, after all, if you don't wear it, it doesn't help.

Custom-made mouthguards are an indispensable piece of equipment — especially when they could save you the inconvenience (and potentially much higher cost) of restoring or replacing teeth. So if you're the active type, consider having a custom mouthguard made for you. It's the best way to prevent a dental injury from spoiling your game.

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