SAN FRANCISCO — An opera singer's voice lost its resonance because of the plastic in his dentures, and a TV commentator's self-confidence had faded--he dared not smile because of problems with his false teeth.
Enter Dr. Thomas Golec, a San Diego dentist specializing in tooth implants. Using the new synthetic bone material hydroxylapatite to coat pure titanium implants in the jawbones of both men, he gave them new, screw-in teeth that are utterly reliable.
Golec detailed the process during a recent meeting of the California Dental Assn.
Use of the bone substitute coating is a revolutionary process that the nation's 1,500 members of the American Academy of Implant Dentists are increasingly turning to, he said.
"The TV guy was losing his self-confidence, he was afraid to smile," Golec said, recalling one of his own patients. A friend had referred the worried commentator to Golec, who performed complete upper and lower jaw implants.
Now, when the camera comes on, "he's his old jovial self," Golec said.
High Note Woes
The opera singer discovered after obtaining dentures that the plastics in his mouth were changing the tone, making it tough to have resonance when reaching for high notes.
He also turned to Golec, who implanted teeth that screw into bases built into his jawbone from titanium coated with the new synthetic bone material.
Today, he sings on par with the standard achieved when he had natural teeth, Golec said.
Tooth implants have been a part of dentistry since the 1950s, and the system became a common practice after development of the BIOTES titanium implant fixture developed in Sweden by Dr. Per Ingvar Branemark, a physician and researcher.
The Integral system is an improvement on Branemark's work, Golec said, noting that the titanium, which has bonding properties with human bone, has a success rate improved to 99% when covered by the bone substitute, hydroxylapatite, developed by the Calcitek Co. in San Diego.
The Integral system uses titanium coated with synthetic bone, which is inserted into the jawbone and begins to biologically integrate with the patient's real bone in less time than formerly required. The implant provides a firm anchor to which prosthetic teeth can then be attached.
It's a two-part system, in which underlying bone in the jaw is uncovered and the fixture is securely implanted. A two- to three-month healing process is required after surgery, compared to three to six months with uncoated titanium.
"The synthetic bone material has the same chemical structure as real bone," Golec said. "This makes the bonding process more natural and instantaneous. A slower drill also is used, which sprays water into the implant area. This creates less chance of burning the bone and better adhesion."
After healing takes place, screws or magnets are used to hold prosthetic teeth in place. The teeth remain in the mouth permanently, rather than being removed like dentures.
Candidates for the process are usually older people who have had missing teeth for years and portions of the jawbone have begun to shrink, Golec said. Younger people who have had teeth knocked out are sometimes candidates for the process, which costs about $700 per tooth, up to $15,000 for an entire jaw.
"The average patient is 65 years old," he said, "although I've done the process on a patient as old as 93. She's 97 now, and still eating corn on the cob."