For Charlotte dental patients, dental implants are at the root of dental innovation
Dentist Mindy Goins, pictured with member Karen Wylde, uses an in-house machine to carve porcelain blocks into crowns that look like the real teeth. (Photo by Jeremy Deal)
For years, Denise Becker of Charlotte wore a partial denture in place of extracted teeth, but she never felt comfortable with the removable prosthesis.
“It affected my ability to chew and I was self-conscious,” Becker says.
Last year, she paid highly rated Charlotte-based dentist Dr. Robert Harrell $6,500 to mount a custom-made five-tooth prosthesis on three implants, essentially titanium roots in her lower jaw.
That capped two years and roughly $15,000 in oral surgeries performed by highly rated Charlotte-based periodontist Dr. H. Nelson Eddy to build up compromised jawbone, pull loose teeth and install implants.
“It’s permanent, it’s strong,” Becker says. “It’s like having natural teeth.” The results brought a smile to her face, she adds, though she paid out of pocket for the work.
Experts say advances in dental implants over the past several decades revolutionized replacement of teeth lost or broken to trauma, decay or disease, or missing due to congenital conditions.
Though some prefer dentures, which typically cost less upfront, implant technology continues to improve, offering a permanent alternative to dentures with more durability to bite.
The biggest advancement in the past decade involves biocompatible coating, which allows more bone to adhere to the implant more quickly, says Charlotte-based prosthodontist Dr. R. Bruce Miller, an American College of Prosthodontists fellow with special training in esthetic restoration and replacement of teeth.
That improved implant stability and allows a dentist to place a dental prosthesis, such as a crown, essentially the visible fake tooth, on the implant within six to 12 weeks of implant surgery instead of three to six months, he says.
Miller can do the implant procedure and prosthesis, but like most dentists he usually works with a specialist, such as a periodontist or oral surgeon, who performs the implant procedure, then places the prosthesis himself.
Instead of designing prosthetic teeth by hand, dentists and dental lab technicians now use computer programs to ensure a more precise fit to the patient’s mouth, says highly rated Dr. Mindy Goins at Charlotte-based Mid-Carolina Dental Center. New, stronger tooth-colored ceramic materials used in crowns and the abutment — the piece connecting the root and crown — deliver a more natural looking result, experts say.
“It looks just like my own tooth and feels like it has been there the whole time,” Waxhaw member Karen Wylde opines of a porcelain crown Goins placed on an implant for $1,500.
Prices vary for implants and prostheses based on the number of teeth missing, underlying dental issues and prep work, such as building up bone. Miller ballparks the total average price for a single, simple implant and crown at $5,000. Costs typically go up from there.
Patients pay most of that out of pocket in part because dental plans tend to cap annual coverage at $1,000 to $2,000.
So if you’re considering an implant, talk to your dentist and review your insurance plan. Ask about what’s involved, costs and financing options, along with risks, such as infection and bleeding. Don’t hesitate to solicit multiple opinions.
“What’s best for you may not be what’s best for your neighbor,” Goins says.