For some Tampa residents, dental implants fill the gap

Norman Cosper says he looked like the caricature of a pirate after a dental crown fell out of his mouth and left a gap next to his front teeth.

To fill the space, he paid highly rated dentist Dr. Kenneth Grundset of St. Petersburg, Fla., about $2,400 to extract the remaining tooth root and install a titanium root called a dental implant. Grundset placed a new crown, or faux tooth, for about $1,400 after the implant site healed several months later.

“It is indeed perfect,” says Cosper, a member from Sun City Center, Fla. He paid out of pocket, since insurance coverage remains limited on implants, but says he got more than his money’s worth.

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, implants attract many patients by offering a permanent alternative with more durability to bite.

“When I first started doing it, you really had to talk people into it,” says Grundset, who began placing implants about eight years ago. Now patients request the procedure, he says.

Many providers do implant procedures, including oral and maxillofacial surgeons, periodontists, general dentists with training in placing implants, and prosthodontists — dentists specially trained in esthetic restoration and replacement of teeth. Patients typically see a specialist for the implant and a general dentist for the crown.

General dentist Dr. Vivian Celeste DeLuca, owner of highly rated Impeccable Smiles in Lutz, Fla., places implants and crowns for $3,600. But she also refers patients to oral surgeons and periodontists for implants in cases where they experience bone loss or require treatment for gum disease.

Like many providers, DeLuca uses CT scan technology to get a 3-D image of teeth and bone before placing implants. “We’re able to more safely plan and conduct surgeries,” she says. Implants still carry risks, including excessive bleeding and infection, and dental CT scans emit more radiation than traditional X-rays. “I don’t use it for anybody who’s simply looking for a single [implant],” says DeLuca, who uses an X-ray for that procedure. Before agreeing to any scan or procedure, experts advise, ask about risks and alternative options.

Not wishing to undergo a surgical procedure and deterred by the prospect of hardware in his jaw, Tampa member Steve Bannister opted against a dental implant and asked DeLuca to design a removable partial denture. “It fits snugly without putting noticeable pressure on any tooth,” says Bannister, adding that it looks great and allows him to eat steak.

DeLuca says some patients prefer to spend $1,400 to $1,600 for a customized removable prosthesis to avoid surgery and save money. But disadvantages remain, including decreased bite strength, though partial dentures affect that less than full ones, she adds.

For now, Bannister’s prosthesis serves as a fitting antidote to two previous dentures designed by his former dentist in Colorado, which both broke. “Certainly if this third denture didn’t work, I would be thinking of something permanent,” he says.

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