The figures are frightening: An estimated five billion people worldwide have dental caries or tooth decay and most children have signs of gingivitis (bleeding gums). Periodontal disease, the major cause of tooth loss, is found in five to 15 percent of most populations.
This grim scenario comes from the World Health Organization (WHO), which said that oral diseases have become a global health problem in both industrialized and developing countries, especially in poor communities. This silent epidemic causes much pain, suffering, impaired function, and reduced quality of life for millions of people.
Oral diseases not only affect the people who have them but they are also a burden to the family, the community and society as a whole. In children, untreated cavities may cause pain, dysfunction, absence from school, underweight, and poor appearance – problems that can greatly reduce a child’s capacity to succeed in life. In adults, poor oral health can affect a person’s ability to maintain a job, get a promotion and prevent that person from reaching his or her goals in life.
In the United States alone, dental problems account for 164 million hours of missed work, 51 million hours of missed school, and 41 million days of restricted activities. Although dental caries is largely preventable, tooth decay affects 95 percent of adults and one fourth of adults over age 60 have lost all of their teeth because of this. Experts attribute this to low awareness and limited access to good oral care.
Local statistics are even worse. The Department of Health and the Philippine Dental Association (PDA) said that 96 out of a hundred Filipinos have cavities, making dental caries one of the top diseases affecting the country.
The usual victims are children who have one of the highest rates of cavities in the world. The prevalence of dental caries among children is 94 percent of which 90 percent remain untreated.
For “dental cripples” who are bothered by their missing teeth, dentures or bridges may sound like a favorable option. However, these devices don’t look or feel like natural teeth and they can irritate the gums. Healthy adjacent teeth also have to be destroyed to accommodate these restorative devices. What’s more, loose or ill-fitting dentures may fall while you’re talking or laughing, leading to embarrassing situations. They also have to be adjusted periodically since dentures won’t prevent the jawbone from shrinking which normally happens when you lose teeth.
Fortunately, there’s a better way to restore missing teeth: Dental implants. Since they were developed over 50 years ago by Swedish scientist and orthopedic surgeon Professor Per-Ingvar Branemark, dental implants have helped close to million toothless people worldwide.
Unlike dentures that can last for only a few months or years, dental implants are made of titanium and last a lifetime. They are surgically implanted into the jawbone and left there for about six months for osseointegration to take place. This is the process wherein the implants fuse or attach to the bone. An abutment or small metal post is later attached to each implant serving as the foundation for new replacement teeth.
It’s easy to understand why dental implants have become very popular these days. Implant dentistry is highly predictable, offers greater flexibility with regards to treatment possibilities, and can give patients fully functional teeth in as short as an hour with minimum discomfort and pain using a local anesthetic with or without sedation. With today’s technology, dental implants can replace a single tooth or the entire upper or lower teeth. They also help support dentures, making them more secure and comfortable. This makes them an ideal option for people who have lost a tooth or teeth due to periodontal disease, an injury or some other reason.
Unlike traditional dentures and bridgework that rely on neighboring teeth for support, dental implants integrate with the bone and healthy teeth don’t have to be destroyed to accommodate them. This results in an improved appearance, a more natural smile, and greater self-confidence. Since they are anchored securely to your jawbone, dental implants also improve your appetite. They allow you to eat your favorite foods with comfort and confidence.
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Dr. Joseph D. Lim is the dean of the National University College of Dentistry, president & CEO of Dr. Smile Dental Care & Laser Center and honorary fellow of the Asian Oral Implant Academy and the Japan College of Oral Implantologists. For questions on dental health, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or text 0917-8591515.