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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.

Dental technology.The complex devices all around us — from long-range satellite links in our cars and offices to powerful computers in our hand-held gadgets — prove beyond a doubt that we live in a technology-driven world. In the field of dentistry, new technology is constantly changing the way diseases are diagnosed, routine procedures are performed, and illnesses are prevented. Although they may seem unfamiliar at first, new and improved dental technologies offer plenty of real benefits for patients. Here's a look at some of the latest examples, coming soon to (or now appearing at) a dental office near you.

  • Air Abrasion Technology. Bothered by the noise and vibration of the dental drill? This air-powered device could make that familiar high-pitched whine a thing of the past! Working like a mini-sandblaster for teeth, this hand-held device removes tiny amounts of tooth material with precision control.
  • Anesthesia Wand. If you don't like needles, this may be just what the doctor ordered: a pen-like device that meters out the precise amount of anesthetic you need — and even pre-numbs the insertion site, so you really won't feel a thing!
  • CAD/CAM Same-day Crown Fabrication. Hate to wait? By combining 3-D digital imaging and computer-aided design and manufacturing technology, it's now possible to have permanent crown restorations completed in a single day — much better than leaving the office with temporary crowns and coming back weeks later for permanent ones!
  • Cone Beam CT Imaging. What's better than an x-ray of your teeth? An on-screen, movable 3-D representation of your jaws! By taking a series of x-ray “slices” and stitching the images together with a powerful computer program, Cone Beam CT imaging creates a virtual model of your mouth. It can be used to find disease, plan procedures, and visualize internal structures that formerly wouldn't have been visible without surgery.
  • Dental implant video Dental Implants. Tooth replacement took a giant leap forward with the widespread use of dental implants — today's preferred method of replacing teeth. Dental implants are small titanium posts that replace the root part of your missing tooth. A realistic dental crown is then attached to the implant for a replacement tooth that looks and feels exactly like what nature gave you.
  • Digital Dental Impressions. Remember biting down on a tray of putty-like material, so a model could be made of your teeth? A digital imaging device now makes that unnecessary. Instead, your teeth can be “dusted” with a fine reflective powder, which is then recorded by a special camera. A series of images is converted into a 3-D model, which can be used to assess a tooth's condition or fabricate dental restorations.
  • Digital X-Rays. Diagnostic x-rays have long been invaluable to dentistry. The emergence of digital technology in the past decade, however, has made dental x-rays safer and even more useful. Digital technology cuts radiation exposure to patients by as much as 90% over traditional x-rays. And there are other advantages including the elimination of waiting time for pictures to develop, and sharper images that can be enhanced instantly to show detail.
  • Intra-Oral Camera. A picture is worth… plenty, when it comes to helping you understand your dental examination, diagnosis and treatment! With these tiny cameras, you can see what the dentist sees, on a small chair-side monitor. The images of your teeth can be saved as stills or video — or even printed out — so you can see exactly what's happening in your mouth.
  • Laser Diagnosis and Treatment. They're inside DVD players and scanner wands — and now, they are making their dental debut. Lasers are being used to detect tiny spots of tooth decay, treat gum disease, and remove cancerous cells in the mouth. They are also employed in gum surgery… even cavity treatments!

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