By: Dr. Scott R. Harden
In 16 years of practice, I have had quite a few memorable patients. However, none have captured my heart like Ethel. At 87 years old, she is charming and witty with an endless supply of funny stories. Serious dental issues brought her to my office, including several missing teeth and severe decay in the remaining teeth. Ethel was a fashion designer in New York City in the 1940’s, and she wanted her smile to look as great now as it did then. She had only one request – she did not want dentures.
Like Ethel, many of America’s senior citizens are voicing concerns about their dental health. Along with the rest of the body, teeth and gums can change drastically with age. Twenty-two percent of Americans over age 65 have active periodontal (gum) disease, and thirty percent have lost all of their natural teeth. Missing teeth can be a very serious problem for patients of any age. The surrounding teeth begin to shift, bone loss occurs, along with compromised eating habits. Traditionally, placing a denture was the treatment of choice for the elderly. However, dental implants have proven to be a viable alternative to dentures for patients facing the loss of their natural teeth.
While nothing can take the place of healthy natural teeth, dental implants can provide a quality replacement when a tooth is lost. When the implant is surgically placed in the jaw, it actually bonds with the bone to form a stable foundation for permanent replacement teeth. After several weeks, the implant integrates with the bone, and a customized dental crown is placed on top of the implant. This crown will look, feel and function like a natural tooth. Implants can be used to replace a single tooth, or even to support a bridge. In fact, patients that already have an existing denture have the option to receive implants that support crowns and bridges across the entire arch – eliminating the need for the complete denture.
Ethel was thrilled that dentures weren’t her only option. She proved to be an ideal candidate for dental implants. Her treatment included several implants that were restored with customized crowns and fixed bridges. Ethel was a little bit apprehensive about spending so much time in the dental chair. After all, when she was growing up, going to the dentist was hardly a pleasurable experience. She was pleasantly surprised when her dental visits included warm blankets and facial towels, and even paraffin hand wax treatments.
Incredible technological advances in the field of dentistry have created a whole new spectrum of treatment options for today’s mature patients. Ethel’s choice to restore her teeth with dental implants has given her the youthful smile she once had.