An apple a day may keep the doctor away for most people, but for Jolanta Garbarz, one bite of an apple used to send her straight to her dentist’s chair.

“My teeth would break,” Garbarz said.

So a few years ago, she forked over more than US$30,000 (RM126,000) and asked her dentist to replace the top teeth in her mouth with implants, so she could finally eat apples, pears – all the fruit she desired.

“Now I bite on anything and everything,” Garbarz said. “It’s life changing, I don’t have to be embarrassed when I smile.”

Dental implants have been around for hundreds of years. But today’s implants aren’t your grandma’s implants, which is why millions of people are choosing them now and why more general dentists are being trained to insert implants.

“The change was gradual; it wasn’t an overnight thing,” said Sivan Finkel, a dentist with The Dental Parlour in New York. “It used to be strictly the domain of the surgeons, but about 10 years ago, it has started to be commonplace for general dentists to be putting them in.”

Dental implants, the artificial roots that dentists use to replace missing teeth, traditionally are made from titanium or an alloy of titanium, explained Stuart Froum, immediate past president of the American Academy of Periodontology and director of Periodontology and Implant Dentistry at New York University.

The metal is strong, it doesn’t rust or bend, and it can support the bite when chewing or speaking.

It bonds with the jawbone where the tooth is missing, and it provides support for a prosthetic crown.

“Implants are used because they avoid removable dentures or having to cut down sound teeth to support a false tooth as part of a fixed bridge,” Froum said.

The average cost of a dental implant and crown is around US$4,500 (RM18,900), said Kyle Stanley, a dentist in Beverly Hills who specialises in implant dentistry.

And while insurance plans used to treat dental implants as experimental treatments, Stanley said, about half of insurance plans cover the implants today.

“Dental insurance is often slow to implement new treatments, but dental implants have been around for a very long time and have a proven track record with over a 94% success rate,” Stanley said.

The success rate is high today, but this wasn’t the case just a few years ago, said Joseph Orrico, owner of Illinois Implant Dentistry and past president of the American Academy of Implant Dentistry. He has been doing dental implants since 1979 and currently does about 800 annually.

“The types of implants that are available today have a higher predictability now, and they’re a lot easier to restore,” Orrico said. “Back when I started, they were a little more technique-sensitive.”

Dentists had to prepare the patient’s bone to fit a given implant, which was a two-stage technique that could take up to a month.

“It was very involved,” Orrico said. “Now you see people who are having their teeth done in an hour.”

Now that the process is relatively simple, more dentists are starting to offer it in their offices, Orrico said.

This is good and bad, because some of the dentists doing implants aren’t trained to do them properly, Finkel said.

Although most dental schools require dentists to place an implant to graduate, it’s important to make sure that the dentist you’re seeing also is credentialed, Orrico said.

“You don’t have to see a specialist, but you want to make sure that they took more than a weekend course,” he said. “There are people out there that market courses to us, and they say, ‘Come down to our facility, pay us US$10,000 (RM42,000) and you can get certified in the end.’”

That’s not the dentist you want for your implant. Instead, look for one who went to a long-term implant school, Finkel suggested.

The American Academy of Implant Dentistry offers its own accreditation programme, and its credentialed dentists complete at least 300 hours of continuing education related to implant dentistry, in addition to practising implant dentistry for at least a year.

They also pass an in-depth written and oral exam in implant dentistry.

In line with the dental implant trend, the academy has 1,000 accredited members today, compared with 800 in 2010 and 650 in 2005.

It’s also important that implant dentists continue to attend seminars and to read studies about their field, as changes in implant dentistry occur daily thanks to technology, Froum said.

“Computer-generated crowns are now being made, but relative to the changes and improvements in computers that have occurred over the last decade, we can expect that, over the next 10 years, applications in the dental-implant field will greatly improve the predictability, durability, aesthetics and function of dental implants,” Froum said. – Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service