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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.

Blood thinners.Millions of people regularly take anticoagulant or antiplatelet medications (sometimes called “blood thinners”) to help prevent heart attack and stroke, and to manage a variety of medical conditions including cardiac arrhythmia and stent placement. While these drugs have proven, life-saving benefits, they can also cause side effects such as increased bleeding. So it may be a cause for concern if you're taking one of them and you need to have a dental procedure.

Anticoagulants are among the more widely used pharmaceuticals today, particularly for heart patients. Some common prescription anticoagulants include heparin, warfarin (Coumadin and generics), clopidogrel (Plavix) and dabigatran etexilate (Pradaxa). Regular aspirin and NSAIDS (like Advil) also have anticoagulant properties. The purpose of anticoagulant medications is to keep the blood from clotting (clumping together) as readily as it normally does; this reduces the chance of a clot forming inside a blood vessel, which could lead to a stroke or heart attack.

If you are taking one or more of these medications, it will take longer for any type of bleeding to stop. For some dental or surgical procedures, that's a factor that must be considered. The most important thing you should do is inform your dentist right away if you are taking any kind of anticoagulant or antiplatelet medication — especially if you have just started taking it. The name and dosage of your medication will be noted in your records, and your cardiologist (or other specialist) will be consulted if necessary, to determine what's best for you.

Having Dental Work with Blood Thinners

While each patient is different, there are some generally accepted guidelines for having dental work while taking anticoagulant medications. If the drug is being taken on a temporary basis (after knee replacement, for example) then the safest choice might be to put off non-essential dental procedures. However, in many cases it's entirely possible to have needed work done while taking anticoagulants. In each situation, the risk of increased bleeding must be balanced against the chance that going off the medication could cause more serious problems.

A number of studies have shown that for many common dental procedures — cleanings, fillings and restorations, for example — it's safer to continue taking anticoagulant medications than to stop, even temporarily. That's because it is generally possible to control bleeding with local measures (such as biting down on gauze), using hemostatic devices and minimally invasive surgical techniques. Scheduling dental work for early in the day and allowing plenty of time for rest afterwards also provides an opportunity to control any bleeding that does occur.

More Complex Procedures

In some cases, more extensive dental procedures such as tooth extraction or implant placement may be recommended for people taking anticoagulants. As always, the potential risks and benefits of stopping the anticoagulant medication must be carefully weighed. To help in the decision-making process, one or more diagnostic blood tests, such as prothrombin time (PT) or International Normalized Ratio (INR), may be ordered. Then a judgment can be made, based on the test results and on clinical experience.

While it's extremely rare for common dental procedures to cause potentially life-threatening complications, it makes sense to take as few chances as possible. That's why you should tell us about any medications you may be taking, including herbs and vitamins. While taking anticoagulants doesn't prevent you from having dental work, it's important to share information about your medications so you can get the best results from your treatment.

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Oral Surgery and Blood Thinners - Dear Doctor Magazine

Oral Surgery & Blood Thinners If you are taking blood thinners — including aspirin — it's important to let your dentist know. These medications (also called anticoagulants) prevent the blood from clotting normally and therefore can make bleeding during dental procedures more difficult to control. However, precautions can usually be taken so that needed procedures can still go forward... Read Article