My Dental Implant Journey

By Isaaz D. Tawil, DDS, MS

img_0053In the ‘80s and ‘90s, I watched as my father transitioned his practice toward cosmetic dentistry.

He quickly adapted to the latest bonding techniques and the white revolution that had begun. Terms like veneers, ceramics, and bonded composites were shaping what would become the essence of the cosmetic dental revolution. As I watched his practice grow and his success rise for him and his colleagues, dentistry became a desirable employment. The comedy of the failed-doctor-turned-dentist was beginning to swing in the opposite direction.

Fast-forward to the turn of the century. When I graduated from NYU College of Dentistry, the dental profession was at an all-time high. Dentists were becoming oral physicians. The link between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease had been established. Applications to dental school were increasing steadily. The uncertainty in the medical profession was driving more potential doctors to become dentists. As I left the secure school environment to embark on my career, my hopes were to emulate my father and become a cosmetic dentist. A quick search on what was then the biggest search engine, Yahoo, led me to alter my decision. There were pages and pages of advertisements for cosmetic dentistry in NYC alone.

There was a new revolution on the rise. Instead of preparing long spanning bridges or fabricating removable dentures, the dental implant was becoming an alternative, final restoration for those who could afford it. New terms such as guided surgery and digital dentistry were being coined. Equipment such as digital sensors, cone beam technology, piezo ultrasonics and CAD/CAM were exploding onto the scene. My aspirations were changing, and my skills needed to be modified for the implant revolution.

In 2015, we now have a predictable and reliable solution to not only place dental implants, but to augment the surrounding architecture in order to enhance the longevity of implants. So if we agree that the dental implant is the best treatment we can provide for the patient, then we must give our patients these treatment plan options. How could the general dentist who was relying on the bridges and dentures for income absorb this financial loss? There are only so many bleaching or product sales we can do to generate the loss from those outdated procedures. The answer to this question lies in your own dental skills. Can you envision placing a dental implant into your patient’s mouth?

I’m often asked, “How does one become an implant dentist?” From my experience, I can tell you that to become proficient in anything dentally requires a lot of education.

My own implant journey started just one year after dental school. I realized that the need for this procedure in my area was in high demand. I started taking CE with several organizations and reading their journals, such as ICOI (International Congress of Oral Implantology), AAID (American Academy of Implant Dentistry), and AO (Academy of Osseointegration). In addition, I joined local implant study groups and grabbed as many CE credits as I could from implant companies. Knowing that classes were not enough, I began reading several textbooks to increase my foundation.

The next step was to acquire hand skills. I was already comfortable extracting teeth, but opening flaps and removing bone was still new to me. Gross anatomy in dental school didn’t provide me with enough skills to operate. Hands-on courses, be it on models or cadavers, gave me the comfort of dealing with life-like situations. In one course, the mannequin would beep and a red light would go off if the mandibular canal was breached. Of course mine was the only one that didn’t work.

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Although these courses gave me great skills and knowledge, there is nothing quite like the real thing. I browsed through many options and decided to sign up for a live surgery course. After four days of live surgery, dealing with intra-operative complications and actually seeing real blood, I finally felt comfortable enough to attempt my first in-office surgery. I’m proud to say that the implant is still there and in proper function. In fact, after many years of taking implant education courses, I have become a provider of one. I have the joy of being able to educate and share my experiences globally. You could say that implants have taken me all over the world.

There are no shortcuts in life. However, there are courses out there that can provide you with the didactics, skill, and confidence necessary to become proficient. Many programs provided by educational institutes can give you all of this in one approach.

Once you have completed the necessary training, the true learning begins–and it never stops. I have learned from my own experiences and from others. I’ve learned more from my failures than from my successes. The internet is full of communities which share information and photos from cases—websites such as DentalXP, Dentaltown, Osseonews, and more can give you the freedom to learn from your PC or even your smartphone.

Implants have become the driving force behind my practice and have enabled me to increase my production tremendously. As a general dental practice, we have the luxury to provide the widest range of services to our patients. We can be performing a root canal in one room and a crown in another. Imagine being able to provide procedures such as sinus augmentation or guided bone regeneration as well. While these techniques may be too advanced for some, other procedures, such as the single tooth implant, may not be.

It is easier than ever to learn implant dentistry and even easier to place them. The materials and equipment have taken a lot of the unknown out of the equation. Guided dentistry has taken off and can enable even the most novice surgeon to look like a master. So why wait? As my good friend, Howard Farran, from Dentaltown always says, “If you can take out a tooth, you can place a dental implant.”

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