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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.

Child with mouthguard.Kids who take part in athletic activities — whether they're playing on organized sports teams, bicycling, or just kicking a ball around — gain a host of well-documented health benefits. Yet inevitably, along with all the fun, the sense of achievement, and the character-building features of athletics, the possibility of injury exists. Does this mean your kids shouldn't play sports? Of course not! But it makes sense to learn about the risks involved, and to take appropriate precautions.

How prevalent are sports-related dental injuries? In 2012, the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation forecast that more than 3 million teeth would be knocked out in youth sporting events that year! Among all the dental injuries we treat in children, it is estimated that over 25% are sports-related, and the majority of these involve the top front teeth.

Besides the immediate trauma, sports-related injuries can result in time lost from school and work, and substantial cost — up to $20,000 over a lifetime to treat a missing permanent tooth. Yet there's a simple and relatively inexpensive way to reduce the chance of dental injury in children: A properly-fitted, comfortable mouthguard, worn whenever playing sports where the possibility of orofacial injury exists.

Use the Right Equipment

Athletic mouthguards.

You wouldn't let your child play football without a helmet and protective padding, right? Yet it might surprise you to know that kids playing basketball are 15 times more likely to sustain injuries to the mouth or face than football players! Mandatory mouthguards are one reason for that: More American kids wear mouth protection for football than any other sport, which has resulted in a dramatic drop in injuries.

Mouthguards are required in only four school-based sports: football, ice hockey, lacrosse, and field hockey. Yet basketball and baseball are associated with the largest number of dental injuries. Other sports for which the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends wearing a mouthguard include bicycling, soccer, skateboarding, wrestling and volleyball. Do mouthguards work? The ADA estimates that athletes who don't wear mouthguards are 60 times more likely to suffer dental injury than those who do.

What Type of Mouthguard Is Best?

The best mouthguard for your child is the one he or she actually wears, both at practice and on game day. There are several different types of mouthguards on the market, which generally fall into three categories:

  • An “off-the-shelf” mouthguard. Available at many sporting goods stores, this type comes in a limited range of sizes, and varies widely in quality. The least expensive option, it offers a minimal level of protection that's probably better than nothing. It generally must be clenched in the mouth, which can make wearing it uncomfortable and cause trouble breathing and speaking.
  • The “boil and bite” mouthguard. These are designed to be immersed in hot water, and then formed in the mouth using finger, tongue and bite pressure. When they can be made to fit adequately, they generally offer better protection than the first type—but they may still be uncomfortable, and usually fail to offer full coverage of the teeth.
  • A custom-made mouthguard. This is a piece of quality sports equipment that is custom fabricated for your child's mouth. How? Molds or impressions of your child's teeth will be made and then tough, resilient, high quality materials are perfectly fitted to that impression. This type of mouthguard offers your child maximum protection and a superior level of comfort — and its cost is quite reasonable.

At the present time, when top-quality sports equipment for kids can run in the hundreds of dollars, it makes more sense than ever to invest in the proven protection of a professionally made, custom-fitted mouthguard.

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