Sink Their Teeth into Almost Anything
Steve Haven indulged recently. He chomped down on corn for the first time in almost 20 years.
The 39-year-old Richmond man has avoided corn on the cob for fear he would dislodge his dentures.
Havens still has dentures; now they are anchored to his jawbone.
“They don’t come loose unless I pull them,” he said during an examination recently at the Medical College of Virginia’s dental clinic.
Havens is one of a growing number of denture wearers who are throwing out their Poly-Grip and opting for dental implants.
The implants- metal rods, roughly the shape and size of a tooth root- fit into the jawbone. An oral surgeon makes an incision in the gum and drills a hole into the bone.
Several months later, when incisions have healed and cell tissue has grown around the implants, natural-looking porcelain teeth or dentures can be attached securely to the rods.
“Implants are revolutionizing the way people can deal with dentures,” said Dr. John W. Unger, chairman of MCV’s Department of Removable Prosthodontics. “If people truly were satisfied with dentures, we wouldn’t have the denture adhesive industry, which is a multi-million dollar business.”
Mack Scott, 56, said he used adhesive and his dentures “still would slip.”
Several weeks after having his dentures attached to implants he said, “Now I can eat.”
Scott is one of 20 area residents participating in an MCV study designed to determine the most effective means of attaching dentures to the implants. One method is by magnet, and the other is by screw-type rings.
The study, which should last about two years, is financed by the dental research division of the National Institutes of Health.
Patients in the study are treated free. To hold down costs, the study patients’ original dentures are used.
In other cases, however, teeth and dentures are custom-made to fit a patient’s implant.
That was the case with Havens, who figures he has spent $2,000 to $3,000 on the implant process. Although his health insurance does not cover any of the implant costs, Havens, who lost most of his lower teeth from a combination of disease and injury, said he has no regrets about going through the procedure.
He said the implants have changed the appearance of his face. Because he had worn dentures for so long, Havens said, the area around his mouth had a sunken look, which now has been eliminated.
Also, the dentures he had worn since age 19 had worn down the ridge of his lower gum. He might not have been able to continue wearing dentures without an implant.
Other benefits of the implant are that Havens no longer speaks with the lisping sound that often is characteristic of denture wearers, and he is confident eating just about any type of food.
Dr. Charles W. Martin, a dentist on Forest Hill Avenue who specializes in dental implants, said people who have them look better, feel better, and chew and smile with more confidence.
Denture wearers, who often refrain from socializing, “many times have a whole new outlook on life” with implants, he added.
Dr. Martin said he has used implants to replace from one missing tooth to an entire set. Implants are used primarily on the lower teeth because there is more of a tendency for those to slip and pop out.
He said he “takes the patient and designs the implant” rather than having the patient conform to an implant design.
Such customized treatment is not cheap. Dr. Martin said his implant fees range from $1,500 to $15,000.
And the process is not speedy.
After a patient is deemed a good candidate for implants- that is, he or she is healthy and has appropriate jawbone structure- surgery is scheduled.
This usually is done on an outpatient basis with a local aesthetic. The surgical implantation of the metal rods- which, like hip and other joint replacements, most often are made of titanium- is no more painful than a tooth extraction, most patients say.
Three to six months later- long enough to allow the patient’s jawbone to bond with the implant- another procedure is performed to uncover the implants, which until that point were imbedded under the gums.
Once exposed, the implants can be fitted with attachments that hook onto the artificial teeth, mechanically locking them into place.
Dr. David A. Beck, who is involved in the MCV study, said implants “make such a huge difference in the function of dentures.”
However, Dr. Unger cautioned that implants “are not all a panacea.” Some patients are not good candidates for implants, and because the technology is so new, the long-term success rate of implants has not been determined.
“I don’t want to be pessimistic, but I don’t want to be euphoric,” Dr. Unger said.
“Implants still are not like real teeth.”