The North American dental implants market is projected to grow at nearly 6% annually and reach $6.71 billion by 2026.
Brian J. Jackson, D.D.S., FAAID, DABOI/ID
President, American Academy of Implant Dentistry
The demand for dental implants far outweighs the supply of qualified implant dentists. According to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry, fewer than 40,000 of the more than 200,000 dentists in the United States place and restore implants. On average, they place only 55 to 60 implants a year. So, why do so few dentists provide dental implants as a treatment option?
“Many doctors fear that the surgery involved is too difficult and hesitate placing implants,” says Dr. Janice J. Wang, a board-certified implant dentist from Walnut Creek, Calif. “Implantology is really like extracting a tooth, but in reverse. The only way to make this easier is through education and practice,” Wang suggests.
Adding dental implants as a treatment option is rewarding to a dentist’s practice, but not just in a monetary sense; it is a treatment option that changes a patient’s life for the better. Seeing patients confidently eating, smiling, laughing, talking, and enjoying all their everyday activities without worrying about their teeth is an amazing feeling.
Continuing education for dental implants
How can a dentist seeking to add implants to his or her practice gain the knowledge, tools, experience, and confidence to place and restore implants? One option is the approximately one dozen university-based programs in the United States that require a minimum of 1-3 years to earn a certificate or Master of Science degree in dentistry.
For those who can’t afford to spend that much time away from their practice, other opportunities are available, including webinars; local study clubs; courses offered over a single weekend; or MaxiCourses®, a continuum of study that requires in-person attendance one weekend a month over 9-12 months. These courses are offered by professional associations whose members are implant dentists, individual dentists, publishers of implant dentistry periodicals and journals, as well as manufacturers of implant systems.
When choosing from the many educational offerings, dentists should be certain to ask about the hands-on aspects of the courses in addition to the didactic portion. They should affiliate with recognized and reputable professional organizations whose mission is to support implant dentistry with a focus on education and mentoring.
“It is absolutely crucial to have a mentor. My very first implant mentors are still my mentors today, and they still help me along my journey,” says Dr. Frank A. Caputo, a board-certified implant dentist who practices in Greendale, Wisc. Dr. Wang couldn’t agree more: “The culture of dental implantology is an inclusive one. Support of colleagues is strongly encouraged,” she adds.
Dr. Bernee Dunson, who is also board-certified and practicing implant dentistry in Atlanta, Ga., has been a mentor to many younger implant dentists for nearly 30 years. “We seek to improve and refine our skills in implant dentistry,” says Dr. Dunson. “The knowledge sharing is a two-way street. I am introduced to different ways of thinking about technology, implants, and life in general by my mentees.”
Tools for success
To place implants, the dentist must obtain specific tools, as well as the implants themselves — not to mention abutments, collectively known as the “implant system.” There are more than 100 manufacturers of implants, each of which takes a different approach and requires different instrumentation. Differences can include the diameter, length, superstructures, materials used to manufacture, or the intended use (e.g., endosteal or sub-periosteal).
Dr. Caputo notes that “additional equipment is a necessity when introducing dental implants into your practice. You’ll need specific motors and handpieces, surgical kits, and your system-specific bur kits. There are also many different kits that you will purchase along the way to help with implant site preparation.”
In addition to the implant system and implants themselves, imaging equipment is another consideration. Can dentists get along with only periapical radiographs they already have in their practices? “Dentists absolutely must have access to a cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) for every case for determining implant size and positioning,” Dr. Caputo recommends. “With the lower costs and availability now, there is no excuse not to use 3D imaging.”
Training for the dental team also must be addressed. According to Dr. Wang, there are two components to a strong implant team: (1) The dental assistant needs to become more like an oral surgery assistant, and (2) an individual who knows the language of implantology, insurance details, and is fluid in reinforcing education to the patient about implant benefits.
Not only is implant dentistry personally rewarding, but it also presents an opportunity for dentists to directly improve the quality of life for their patients and continue learning and growing as dentists.