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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.

Dangers of Removable Dentures.Removable dentures have been around for a long time. Perhaps your grandparents had them — maybe their grandparents did too. George Washington owned several sets, and they seemed to work OK… and millions of Americans are wearing full or partial sets today. Is there a reason why you shouldn't wear dentures?

Yes… but first, a little background. At one time, dentures were the only answer to the problem of complete or partial edentulism (the loss of natural teeth). Today there's a better answer: Dental Implants. But before we look at implants, let's examine removable dentures in a little more detail.

A Closer Inspection

Dentures are certainly a time-tested technology that many people have learned to live with. Their initial purchase price is relatively inexpensive, and after a period of adjustment, many find they function adequately. But just as dentures themselves are familiar, so are the difficulties that denture wearers experience.

Removable dentures frequently require special cleaning, and they can build up unpleasant tastes and odors. Because they aren't always reliable during use, it's common for dentures to lead to a loss of self-confidence and self-esteem. Often, they don't allow you to eat the foods you really like. Also, dentures invariably need to be re-fitted and re-made over time. While the first two sets of problems may be enough to turn you away from dentures, it's the last two that give reasons to be concerned about your health.

Health Concerns

Dangers of Dentures.In recent years, the importance of proper nutrition has received plenty of well-deserved attention. Here's something to note: Wearing dentures can be detrimental to good nutrition. Studies have shown that half of all denture wearers avoid many “difficult” foods (like raw fruits and vegetables, which have proven health benefits), while 29% can eat only soft or mashed items, which are often “processed” or “junk” foods. In fact, 17% say they eat more efficiently without their dentures!

For many older Americans, eating healthier is a major goal; it has been recognized as a great way to prevent disease and improve overall wellness. Dentures can make it harder to achieve that goal. They also create their own problems, which are related to bone loss.

When you lose teeth, the bone tissue in the jaw, which formerly surrounded them, inevitably begins to deteriorate. It rapidly loses volume, becoming narrower and shallower — and as it does so, the appearance of the face changes too. The decreased distance between chin and nose, and the frowning countenance caused by a loss of support for the cheeks and lips, makes a person look aged and unhappy… even if they're not (View Example).

Dentures don't stop the loss of bone; in fact, they accelerate it. By placing pressure directly on the bone's surface, rather than into the bone structure beneath it, they actually speed up this destructive process. The reason dentures need to be re-lined or re-made is because bone loss is changing the contours of the jaw. And the consequences of wearing dentures aren't just skin deep: Thinner bones are more prone to fracture, and other associated oral health issues (such as TMJ problems) may become a concern.

A Better Alternative

Replacing all teeth with dental implants.Today, there's a better alternative to dentures: dental implants. Because the remarkable technology of implants allows them to fuse with living bone tissue in the jaw, they provide the stimulus needed to keep the bone from eroding. In turn, because they're anchored so solidly, they function much better than dentures: You can eat any of your favorite foods, or try something new — the same way you would with your natural teeth.

The dental implant procedure has a success rate of over 95 percent. Implants require no special care beyond normal brushing and flossing; they won't decay or stain, and they're designed to last a lifetime. While their initial cost is usually higher, implants offer something dentures don't — long-term value. And the enjoyment and self-confidence many people regain with dental implants is something you can't put a price on.

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