Implants At The Root Of The Smile

MAY 7, 2005

DENTAL IMPLANTS AT THE ROOT OF NEW SMILE

BY RALLIE MCALLISTER, MD

rallie

Kim P. has new teeth, and she can’t stop smiling.

Growing up in rural Oklahoma, Kim’s family couldn’t afford to pay for visits to the dentist. By the time she was a teenager, Kim’s teeth were in bad shape, causing her a great deal of embarrassment and physical pain.

Kim’s trouble with her teeth and gums worsened after each of her four pregnancies. Some of her teeth fell out, and those that did not were decayed and broken. “My mouth hurt constantly,” she said. “The pain made me cry just about every day.”

Even worse than the physical pain was the emotional suffering Kim endured. “My whole life revolved around having bad teeth,” she said. “I couldn’t look people in the eye when I spoke to them. I was so ashamed; I went around with my head down all the time.”

Kim had just about given up hope of smiling again when she came across a pamphlet about dental implants in her local newspaper. On her lunch break at work, she scoured the Internet for more information.

Her search led her to Pi Dental Center and its founder, Thomas Balshi, DDS, a prosthodontist in Fort Washington, Pa. Kim sent Dr. Balshi an e-mail telling her story and requesting more information.

Dr. Balshi did more than just send information. Moved by Kim’s story, he flew 32-year-old Kim and her husband to Philadelphia, hosted the couple in his home and performed Kim’s dental implant surgery free of charge.

Kim’s new teeth are a revolutionary product of Nobel Biocare, the world’s largest manufacturer of dental products. The company’s founder pioneered the use of dental implants more than 40 years ago.

Nobel Biocare dental implants are made of titanium, a metallic element known for its strength, durability and compatibility with the human body. The implants are attached to the bone of the upper or lower jaw, where they serve as permanent anchors for replacement teeth.

According to Balshi, “The Nobel Biocare implants are made of a specific surface called TiUnite, which unites with the jawbone and actually stimulates bone formation and solidification around the implants.”

The surface of the dental implants is marked by tiny caves and caverns, similar to those found on the rough surface of coral. When the boney tissue of the jaw grows into these nooks and crannies, an extremely strong fusion occurs.

“There is a stronger bond between the patient’s jawbone and the implant than there is between the bone and the healthiest tooth in the mouth,” Balshi noted. The implants can be used to replace a single missing tooth, or an entire mouthful, regardless of the cause of tooth loss.

Although tooth loss is often a consequence of poor dental hygiene, other factors may be to blame. According to Balshi, approximately seven percent of the population experiences tooth loss that can be attributed to genetic factors.

Older adults may lose teeth as a result of the bone loss that occurs with osteoporosis. Facial injuries and periodontal disease can also lead to the loss of permanent teeth.

At his Fort Washington office, Balshi performs a dental procedure known as “Teeth in a Day,” the same procedure that Kim P. underwent.

“This is very inviting for people who are fearful, or for those who don’t want to make 10 to 15 visits to the dentist’s office,” Balshi said. During the three- to four-hour procedure, the patient’s unsalvageable teeth are extracted and then replaced with dental implants.

Afterward, patients experience very little swelling, bleeding or post-operative pain. When Kim awoke after her surgery, pain was the last thing on her mind. “I went straight to a mirror,” she said. “I just stood and stared forever — I couldn’t believe that I had teeth.”

This procedure is extremely consistent,” Balshi said, “It works effectively time after time. It’s one of the most predictable medical procedures performed, with a success rate of over 98 percent.”

Since the implants take approximately 12 weeks to become completely secure in their attachment to the bone, a soft diet is recommended initially. Afterward, patients can bite, crunch and chew to their hearts’ content.

After suffering from malnourishment for years, Kim newfound ability to chew helped her regain 20 pounds and better health. She’s also enjoying a new sense of self-confidence.

Once afraid to speak up, Kim and her husband of 18 years have started a musical ministry. “I can hold my head up now,” she said. “I can finally look people in the eye and give them a big smile.”

Rallie McAllister, M.D., M.P.H., is a family physician in Kingsport, Tenn., and author of “Healthy Lunchbox: The Working Mom’s Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim.”

WITH PERMISSION OF CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. 2005

Pi Dental Center, Fort Washington, PA