Advances in Dental Implants

Advances in Dental Implants

By Ann Wlazelek

An estimated 69 percent of Americans, ages 35 to 44, are missing at least one tooth; another 26 percent over the age of 74 have lost all of their natural teeth. But that does not mean men and women must look like Alfred E. Newman or “Moms” Mabley. Nor does it mean they have no choice but to wear a bridge or dentures the rest of their lives.

For most folks who need one or more teeth replaced, dental implants can be better alternatives, according to Dr. Wayne Saunders, a Bethlehem oral surgeon and founder of the Center for Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.

Dental implants are natural-looking, artificial teeth attached to titanium posts that have been implanted into the jawbone. The posts, also called bionic roots, are implanted first in the two-step process; the teeth attached second.  As a patient’s own bone grows into the post, a process called osseointegration, the result is a stronger jaw and more permanent fix.

“Invented 60 years ago, dental implants have become a mainstream part of dentistry in this country in the past 15-20 years and mainstream in the Lehigh Valley in the past 10 years,” says Saunders. Advances in imaging, bone grafting and treatment plans have improved so much in the past two years, he said, that oral surgeons are able to replace an entire mouth of teeth in one day.

Almost Everyone Can Be a Candidate

“Basically, everyone is a candidate unless they have uncontrolled diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension or thyroid,” Saunders says, adding that is true of any elective procedure. “If patients are healthy or controlling an illness with medicines, they can have dental implants,” he says.

“Our ability to remake bone for people has opened the door for patients who were told they were not good candidates in the past,” Saunders said. Even patients who smoke or who were told years ago that they did not qualify because they had lost bone along with their teeth might qualify today.


New 3-dimensional imaging equipment allows surgeons to better see and plan for the implants.  Dr. Saunders’ Center for Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery purchased the technology, making it available to all eight oral surgeons on staff.  The practice also utilizes the latest research, training and bone-grafting materials to help ensure quick and complete integration of bone and implant.

Success Rates

“I always tell my patients that nothing in medicine or dentistry has 100 percent success.  There’s always a chance of infection or non-integration, but if you are a healthy adult, dental implants work 98 percent of the time,” Saunders said. “And even if you fall into the 2 percent, it is usually fixable.”

Patient Responsibilities

Patients who undergo outpatient dental implant procedures need not take antibiotics, nor do they need to take anti-rejection medicines for bone grafts received from cows or cadavers, Saunders said.  “If a patient needs bone grafts and cannot or does not want to use that of a donor, he or she can have bits of bone removed from his or her own hips or other parts of the jaw,” he adds.

About 20-25 percent of the thousands of dental implant recipients treated at Saunders’ Center needed bone grafting.  The majority had strong enough jaw bones to receive implants without the graft.

The amount of time it takes for one or more implants varies from the same day to 3-4 months. No matter how long it takes, patients never have to go without teeth, Dr. Saunders said. Something temporary is fashioned for those who wait longer periods of time.

When done correctly, dental implants last a lifetime and give patients more satisfaction than a bridge, which can compromise other healthy teeth to which the bridge must be anchored. Implants can also provide a better outcome than dentures, which can be ill-fitting or slip.

Patients must treat their implanted teeth like new teeth.  The artificial teeth will not get cavities, yet they must be brushed and flossed to prevent gum disease and bone loss.

“If you take care of them, you will have them for 100 years,” assures Saunders.


Dental implants are not inexpensive.  Some dental insurance plans will cover the costs, but more patients than not do not have such coverage and must pay out of pocket.  At the Center, oral surgeons perform the first part of the two-part procedure – planting the implant – for $1,500 each.

At the Center for Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery at St. Luke’s the implant process is completed by the patients’ dentist. The crown is placed and attached to the implant or implants. Sometimes, an entire set of upper or lower teeth can be secured with as little as two implants.

Wayne Saunders is an oral surgeon and founder of The Center for Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, a private practice affiliated with St. Luke’s Hospital and Health Network that has eight oral surgeons at four locations: Pond Road, South Whitehall Township; 8th Avenue, Bethlehem; Route 248, Easton; and 19th Street, near Tilghman Street, Allentown. A graduate of Parkland High School, Saunders received a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Tulane University and earned his Doctorate of Dental Medicine from Temple University School of Dentistry in Philadelphia. Dr. Saunders has been in practice for 15 years.

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