Louis Malcmacher, DDS, MAGD
Do general dentists have the skills to surgically place dental implants? Well, let's take a look at a historical and worldwide perspective of dental specialty procedures and see what we can learn from past experience.
There was a time when endodontics were performed primarily by endodontic specialists. The turf war began when some general dentists learned how to perform some basic endo procedures. With proper training and experience, general dentists became proficient in endodontic procedures, and today it is estimated that general dentists perform 90% to 95% of all endodontics. With only a few thousand endodontists and over 100,000 general dentists, endodontics has become commonplace in dental treatment today and has helped millions of patients. This would have been impossible without the involvement of general dentists.
With the advent of aligner therapy and short-term orthodontics, orthodontics is another area that has grown exponentially in the general dental practice. Yes, some orthodontists screamed bloody murder at the idea of general dentists performing basic orthodontic procedures. Like it or not, this has accomplished one thing: it introduced orthodontic treatment to a much wider audience through general dental offices. There are now more orthodontic procedures being done than ever before.
Now back to dental implants. Do general dentists have the skills to surgically place dental implants? The answer historically is a resounding "yes," with the proper training and experience that any dental procedure requires. When you consider that approximately 10% of general dentists in North America already surgically place implants, and nearly 85% to 90% of general dentists in many countries place implants, that pretty much answers the question. General dentists have skills and experience that can easily be leveraged into learning to surgically place and restore dental implants. I keep going back to the same words: With proper training, general dentists have the skills necessary to achieve outstanding therapeutic outcomes with dental implant therapy.
We need to be brutally honest here. General dentists not trained in simple and proper implant therapy may subconsciously not be offering the best treatment option for some of their patients' restorative needs. They just don't have the experience with dental implants to honestly recommend it for the majority of patients for whom it may be the best treatment.
What will happen as dentists become trained to place implants? More patients will be introduced to a treatment option that will best fit their needs. Dental implants will become more accessible to patients because 100,000 dentists will be doing implants as opposed to a few thousand specialists. Dental implant cases will grow exponentially, keeping dentists and dental specialists busy for years to come. Dental implants will take their proper place as an excellent treatment option for the millions of patients who can benefit from them.
I really do understand why there are turf wars in dentistry. I would love to believe that these specialists are altruistically concerned purely about patient protection. But I'm afraid most of them are just hiding behind the real issue of simple economics and the threat of losing business. What a small-minded mistake they are making!
Any smart dental specialist knows that the more their referring general dentist knows about placing implants, the more dentists will realize what they can and can't treat and recognize more quickly when a dental specialist is needed. These well-trained general dentists refer even more patients than they did before. Let's stop the turf wars in dentistry. Life is too short. The more thoroughly general dentists are trained in all procedures, the more everyone will benefit, especially patients.
What path should dentists take in dental implant education? The same proven formula the American Academy of Facial Esthetics (AAFE) uses for its Botox, dermal filler, TMJ, and dental sleep training. Learn Level 1 basic surgical/prosthetic cases first, place some simple implants, grow in your experience, stay within your training, refer out what is beyond your expertise, and then move on to Level II, III, and beyond. This education continuum is the same process the AAFE uses in implant education, and it has been very successful in helping dentists add exciting new dimensions to their practice.
Louis Malcmacher, DDS, MAGD, is a practicing general dentist and internationally known lecturer and author. Dr. Malcmacher is president of the American Academy of Facial Esthetics (AAFE). You can contact him at (800) 952-0521 or drlouis@FacialEsthetics.org. Go to www.FacialEsthetics.org to find information about live patient frontline TMJ and orofacial pain training, dental implant training, frontline dental sleep medicine, bruxism therapy and medical insurance, and Botox and dermal fillers training. You can also download Dr. Malcmacher's resource list and sign up for a free monthly e-newsletter.