Dental implants have been the toast of the dental industry for quite some time now, and are a fantastic development. They mark not only the potential end to tooth loss as a condition (the fact that most people will never have access to it because of the greed of the wealthy nations I a different question, but at least the science is there, and so we have the potential, right?), but also mark the entering of the dental industry into the era of regenerative medicine and not just preventive or reactive medicine. The dental implant is the most significant development in dentistry in our lifetime, and yet, it is not entirely without risks or complications.
The problem that is currently bothering researchers is this one. Because titanium, the only material that does not biodegrade and is not rejected by the human body and is incorporated by the bone tissue (in a wonderful process called Osseointegration), is harder than human bone, eventually it causes problems. No matter how well you make the hole, eventually the dental implant will create micro movements, and will move around just a little bit. This little bit of movement over time is enough to wear the bone around the dental implant away. When this happens, the movements become larger and larger, until the dental implant causes damage, pain, or is otherwise not functional or becomes harmful. This problem is difficult to solve, and even more difficult to get around, and currently, the most often used solution is to use a dental implant with a wider range. But this is a solution that by its very definition is only temporary. Are there any more permanent solutions?
There have been quite a few solutions offered to this problem, and all of them are being worked on. The first and most obvious one is to enhance the dental implant surface. Titanium is already a porous material that bone cells like to grow in to; perhaps we can enhance it to make ti so that they grow into the material faster or better, or with greater frequency. The acid etched surface as well as leaving the surface coated with calcium ions helps this process, and has given us greater initial dental implant stability. Perhaps the bones can also be enhanced? Gels have been developed that have stem cells in them that make the bone receptive to implantation, and that produce greater stability. These gels usually just shorten the healing time, and cause the bone to regenerate quicker, which may also be the solution. Other people are revamping the design and shape of the dental implant, to create something with wings, or with threading like a genuine screw, and this way lodging it more firmly into the bone material. All of these solutions have their pros and their cons, and only time will tell how this problem will be circumvented and solved. Right now, scientists are working on it, and maybe tomorrow, this will no longer be a problem.
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