Surgery gives patients something to smile about

Augusta 05 February 2008For 10 years, Thelma Clark has lived without teeth. Diagnosed with osteoporosis at 50, her teeth broke off one by one. She's gone through four sets of dentures and bulk quantities of denture adhesive. Thanks to a revolutionary procedure available at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) School of Dentistry, she no longer hides her smile. Surgeons and prosthodontists used Nobel Biocare's Teeth in an Hour technology to give Ms. Clark new pearly whites.

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"I'm so self-conscious about my appearance", stated Ms. Clark, a resident of Fitzgerald, Georgia. "I catch myself holding my hand over my mouth when I smile."

"Implants, which anchor permanent prosthetic teeth, are the biggest thing in dentistry right now. This procedure really benefits people who are pressed for time and don't want to wear dentures", stated Dr. Solon Kao, an oral surgeon and assistant professor in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.

A $6,2 million contract between MCG and Nobel Biocare, a manufacturer of dental implants and equipment, funds the equipment, training and software needed for the procedure. Teeth in an Hour, which refers to the surgical time spent placing the implants, shortens the implant process from months involving multiple surgical procedures and recovery to weeks culminating in only one minimally invasive procedure, according to Dr. Kao.

The conventional implant method requires cutting open the tissues and revealing the jaw bone to determine placement of the implants. Once in place, they are covered by the tissue. Healing time is usually four months before a second operation to place additional attachments on the implants. After another healing period and potentially more procedures, dental prostheses are attached.

"The conventional method is a tedious, time-consuming process for the patient, whereas Teeth in an Hour is focused on treatment-planning and requires a minimal amount of the patient's time", Dr. Kao stated. The procedure requires an initial appointment for a CT scan and mouth impressions, which are used to create a virtual 3D model of the patient.

"With this virtual model, I can precisely determine implant location without the patient coming for an office visit", Dr. Kao stated. Once he has designed the implant placement in the virtual model, this "surgery blueprint" is sent electronically to Nobel Biocare to make a customized surgical template.

"The template is secured to the patient's jaw during surgery, and it guides implant placement to the intended location", stated Dr. Kao. Once the implants are in place, a prosthodontist attaches the prostheses. The benefits of this minimally invasive procedure compared to the conventional implant method extend far beyond the convenience of a shortened process, according to Dr. Kao.

"There's generally no need for sedation, and because I never pick up a knife, there are no sutures, less swelling and less pain", he stated. "A patient who comes with no teeth the morning of surgery can go home the same day with a full set and have a hamburger for dinner."

Ms. Clark can't wait to do just that. "I've lived off instant potatoes and grits for six months, so I'm ready for a steak and baked potato. I just hope I haven't forgotten how to chew", she stated.

Patients with strong bones are the best surgery candidates, according to Dr. Kao. "When you're building a house, you must have a solid foundation. The same is true for dental implants; you must have solid bone structure to provide support for implants", he stated.

In Ms. Clark's case, osteoporosis had decimated her jaw bone, so bone from her skull was grafted into her jaw over the summer. "I've always been one to smile, but now I'm gonna smile a lot more", stated Ms. Clark.


Leslie Versweyveld

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