Health & Fitness

Dental implants rebuild smiles

She wasn’t even wearing heels. But on the sidewalk near the Southfield, Mich., law firm where she works, Arlene Bordman’s loafer got stuck in a crack and “I went right over and landed on my mouth.” A few weeks later, she felt something rattling and loose in her upper jaw. Her dentist ended up pulling out her upper four front teeth, just six weeks before her son’s May 30 wedding.

Bordman, 68, of West Bloomfield, Mich., got through the wedding wearing a flipper: fake front teeth attached to a smooth acrylic denture molded to conform – with a little dental adhesive – to the contours of the palate. While it looked good, she felt like she had to relearn how to talk. It didn’t give her the strength to bite into chewy bread.

“I took it out and I looked like an old, haggard lady. I had no lips,” said Bordman, who prides herself on being physically active.

Her dentist recommended she visit Timothy Kosinski, a Bingham Farms, Mich., dentist who specializes in dental implants. In September, in the space once occupied by the roots of Bordman’s front teeth, Kosinski inserted two titanium implants, screw-like devices, into her upper jawbone. The procedure lasted about 30 minutes with local anesthetic. Over the course of the next three months, the screws fused with Bordman’s jawbone.

Onto the screws, Kosinski threaded an abutment, which holds tightly to four replacement teeth. No more flipping her flipper in and out of her mouth. Bordman has her bite back.

“I am like a new person. It’s so great. I can eat anything I want to,” said Bordman. “I’m a bread person, and I like a good thick roll or sandwich. And I can enjoy it now.”

Bordman has plenty of company with her dental woes. Statistics show that 7 out of 10 adults ages 35 to 44 have already lost one tooth due to accident, gum disease or a failed root canal, according to the American Dental Association. By the time Americans reach their mid-70s, 1 out of 4 has lost all permanent teeth.

Before dental implants, the only alternatives were removable dentures or a fixed bridge, which can affect adjacent healthy teeth and often needs to be replaced after several years.

Dental implants are growing in popularity because of their long-term durability. With the aging baby boom population and advances in techniques, dental implants have exploded in use.

“Especially in the last 10 years, there’s been an exponential growth in the placement of dental implants for missing teeth,” said Monish Bhola, an associate professor and co-director for implant dentistry at the University of Detroit Mercy Dental School. “It’s really the next best thing to an actual tooth. It’s anchored in bone.”

Most implants last for decades.

The small percentage that fail, said Bhola, usually are due to other health issues, such as a patient being diabetic or a heavy smoker or just not taking care of one’s teeth — be they real or replacement.

It can be a costly procedure. In the Detroit area, Bhola said the implant procedure for one tooth can cost about $2,500 to $3,000.

Insurance carriers typically haven’t picked up implant costs, Bhola said. But that’s beginning to change, he said, because of the long-term benefits of an implant compared with a dental bridge. With a bridge, the replacement tooth is secured to adjacent teeth, and that involves filing and capping otherwise healthy teeth to secure the fake tooth in place. That opens the door to weakening the healthy teeth, which can undermine the longevity of the bridge.

“There are more chances for these adjacent teeth to develop problems because you’ve cut into them,” said Bhola. “If you look at the cost of a bridge with one tooth, it ends up being about the same as an implant.”

University of Michigan Dental School professor Michael Razzoog said “the biggest thing with implants that a patient needs to hear first is that implants preserve bone.” That forestalls other future problems, helping keep teeth aligned and reducing gum disease.

Implants can replace one tooth or many. In some cases, dentures are screwed securely onto implants, alleviating the tendency for dentures to slip, become dislodged or otherwise embarrass their users. Once it’s placed in the jaw bone, the screw-like implant isn’t visible.

Kevin Brennan, 49, a Realtor from Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., was in Kosinski’s chair last week, getting his new fake tooth attached to his implant to replace tooth number 20, on the lower left side of his jaw.

The tooth had decayed because of a root canal procedure many years ago. His dentist sent him to Kosinski, who took out the bad tooth and inserted an implant about three months ago.

During the implant, Brennan said he was under local anesthetic and felt pressure from the dentist drilling into his jawbone.

“This is as easy as I could have imagined having a tooth replaced,” said Brennan. He said a bridge might have been a little cheaper, but he didn’t like the idea of altering the adjacent teeth to hold the bridge.

“This is the only implant I have and the only one I ever intend on getting,” said Brennan. “Provided I take care of my teeth, it should last a lifetime.”