Did you know that nearly 3 million people in the US have dental implants? Every year another 500,000 more people receive dental or tooth implants which are made of titanium posts with an attached prosthetic. A similar titanium alloy is used in the aerospace and spacecraft industry as well as in medical devices. But what makes the titanium used in dental implants different from the titanium used in aircraft? The titanium must go through a biologic process called osseointegration so that it can bond with the underlying bone. Dental implants also come in many variations. For instance, single tooth replacements are the most common, but dental implants can be used as part of a component to a fixed partial denture or as part of bridgework.
Dental implants function just like the missing tooth or teeth they were meant to replace. Inserted into the jawbone, the post is given a few weeks to heal before the crown or prosthesis is put in place. One of the major advantages of having implants is that it can preserve the bone and jaw structure and prevent bone loss. But just like any other surgical implants do come with some risks. Depending upon where the implant is placed patients can develop damage to nerves, other teeth, sinuses, and blood vessels. Another condition that can develop is peri-implantitis which is a bacterial infection that is located around the post. If left untreated it can develop into bone loss. Early detection of implant issues can prevent bigger problems that can lead to issues like gum and bone damage.
This UK co-authored study conducted by Dr. Simon Wright of the Implant Centers of Excellence tested the argument that patients cannot tell the difference between an unsuccessful and successful implant. Seventy-five patients between the ages of 23 and 92 years of age, who had dental implants within the last year, were asked to complete questionnaires and complete an exam to see if responses aligned with the results determined by dental clinicians.
The exploratory study centered on five areas of post-implant health including loose restorations which could include crowns, partial dentures or bridgework, aesthetics, bleeding or pus, fractured implants, and occlusion. Occlusion is how well the lower and upper teeth align when closed. Researchers found little difference in assessment between the dentists or the patients according to the results published in the British Dental Journal.
The breakdown of the five focus areas was as follows:
- Occlusion with a dental implant was reported by patients 1.3 percent of the time while dentists found it in 5.3 percent of the exams.
- Fractures were found by patients 5.3 percent of the time while dentists detected fractures 1.4 percent of the time.
- Loose restorations were found by patients 14/ 7 percent of the time while dentists detected loose restorations in 13.3 percent of the examinations.
While this small study cannot with certainty provide information about how patient education played a role, it does indicate that a patients’ understanding of implant health and disease post surgery can assist with the detection of early complications. Catching issues early in the dental implant process mean more predictable and satisfactory outcomes for patients.
Certainly, the study is not advocating that patients conduct their own examinations or that dental implant problems can be diagnosed without an examination by a dental professional. But clearly the more a patient is educated about the process; the more they become an active participant in their own dental health. Even to the point of possibly contributing to a more positive outcome. Patients given information about the risks, knowledge of the implant procedure, followed by accurate instruction about post-surgical implant care have a more positive dental outcome than those we are not educated on the specifics of their treatment.