Dental implants are a great way for patients to replace missing teeth and restore their smile. Implants allow dentists to not only improve a smile’s aesthetics by replacing missing teeth, but they also allow protection of patient health by preventing loss of bone, additional tooth loss and other complications that arise from missing teeth. Dental implants are an ideal therapy because they are easy to care for, are permanent and have a high rate of success compared to other procedures or therapies. A new breakthrough for dental implants can make them an even better therapy – by engineering them to help fight off infection.
The success rate of dental implants is almost 99 percent, according to the American Academy of Endodontists. This means that for the majority of implant patients, there are no complications during or after implant placement. But for some patients, complications from dental implants can and do occur. Complications of implant surgery can range from the failure to ossify, or anchor, itself into the bone. Another cause of implant failure is the development of infections. Infections of dental implants are known as dental implantitis, and are caused by bacteria that is present in the patient’s gums before the procedure, or that develop as a result of improper dental hygiene practices after surgery.
Researchers at Spain’s University of the Basque Country are working to develop antibacterial coatings for dental implants to minimize complications and failure from infections, and help to ensure successful implant placements. The project has its challenges, however. One particular challenge the project seeks to address is the ability of certain bacteria to resist antibiotic treatment. Another challenge for researchers is addressing the problem of implants failing to ossify into the bone where they are placed, a situation that occurs in 30 percent of dental implant procedures worldwide.
Dr. Amy Norman, D.D.S., an Everett, Washington, dentist performs dental implant surgery on patients in her office who are looking to restore their smiles. "Many patients are looking to replace teeth that are missing, improve their smiles and regain their confidence. They often choose to do so using dental implants because implants are a permanent treatment versus prosthetic dentures. Dental implants are also very easy to care for," says Norman. "Most patients who have a dental implant have no complications with their implant surgery, but the idea of being able to minimize infection through the implant itself is intriguing and exciting," she continued.
The Spanish scientists initially developed a solution made up of silica and antibacterial agents that developed into a gel over time. This gel was then used to coat the titanium screw portion of the implant. Silica was chosen because of its bone growth inducing benefits.
The project tested three different formations of coatings, each with a different antibacterial agent until they found their ideal combination. The antibacterial agents used all had similar abilities in preventing bacteria from attaching itself to the implant, which prevents the bacteria from gaining a foothold in the area. If the bacteria present were actually able to colonize, the antibacterial agent was effective in destroying the infection.
Researchers also sought to develop a product that was long lasting, in order to protect the patient as long as possible. "The ability to provide long lasting protection from infection to allow the patient to health thoroughly is paramount," says Norman. "A combination of this technology and proper dental hygiene practices would maximize protection for patient health."
While a final dental implant coating product is still far off, project leaders were able to confirm that antibacterial coatings for dental implants are a possibility, and do not impede the ability of the implant to integrate into the bone.
Norman remains excited at the future of dental implants. "It is a priority of my practice to be educated on the latest trends and research in dentistry in order to provide patients with the best technology and care available."