Getting started as an implant dentist

June 1, 2007
After about eight years in the practice, I realized that many of my denture patients were suffering miserably.

by Jeffrey T. Meister, DDS

After about eight years in the practice, I realized that many of my denture patients were suffering miserably. Many had not realized how different their lives would become once their teeth were removed. Dentures often proved a true disability for certain patients. Some, in fact, were in extreme discomfort yet unaware that other options might be available to improve their quality of life.

I also found myself undereducated as to all of their options. It was for this very reason that I began my implant journey and have been educating myself and my staff ever since.

A bit about my background: I am a general dentist with a community-focused, patient-centered practice in Northwest Indiana. I graduated from Indiana University/Purdue University School of Dentistry (IUPUI) in 1988. After graduation, I began solo practice and concurrently completed two years of hands-on orthodontic training with The Academy of Gp Orthodontics.

In 1996, I added a denture lab and two denture technicians to the team. Shortly after adding dentures to my practice mix, I knew that I had the responsibility to learn more about implant options for my patients. Now, a decade later, implantology comprises the most exciting, personally rewarding portion of my practice. Since 2000, I have obtained my anesthesia permit and have received extensive training in implantology.

The average age of my patients in 1996 was about 37. Today it is 57. I have enjoyed providing implant care for patients ages 15 to 93. Providing implant care for the fully edentulous evokes a smile from your patient that you never forget. This generation is more likely to value implant therapy - and to be more financially prepared for that care. I have learned that properly educated and informed partially dentulous patients (usually in their 50s or 60s) often choose to benefit from orthodontia as well.

Patients often don’t know that they are seeking a doctor who can coordinate the wide variety of their dental health care treatment needs, including general dentistry, orthodontics, extractions, dentures, and implants. Each patient also requires and deserves specific consideration given to their overall health and oral health care needs and desires. They deserve a doctor with the knowledge to meet all of these needs.

I decided to pursue comprehensive implant education for a number of reasons. I wanted to ease the suffering of patients unhappy with dentures that were negatively affecting their quality of life. However, I also found myself frustrated at having to send patients to colleagues for surgical implant placement. Oftentimes, the doctors to whom I referred and I would disagree about the exact placement of the implants, creating restorative difficulties. My patients’ expectations weren’t always being met, and neither were mine.

I strongly believe that comprehensive education is required to provide this level of care. In the late 1990s, I attended a few weekend courses and decided that it would be beneficial for my patients if I acquired more comprehensive knowledge and training in implant dentistry.

As my colleague and fellow member of the American Academy of Implant Dentistry, Dr. Bernee Dunson of Atlanta, once remarked, “You can’t practice contemporary dentistry without practicing implant dentistry. The field will only continue to grow in the coming years.”

Unlike Dr. Dunson, who has been placing implants since he first began his practice, I had to decide whether to add implants to my practice. There were many considerations - new equipment; additional inventory; finding the capital for the initial investment; need for additional training for my staff; considering how I would feel about the change in my practice and new patient mix; and, of course, finding the time for education and training.

I have approximately $120,000 invested in my implant “inventory” of equipment, surgical kits, and implants. Most dentists keep only a few implants on site and order them as necessary. We have hundreds in inventory because we have positioned our practice to provide Same-Day Care, including Same-Day dentures, extractions, and implants.

Soon, my staff and I will celebrate the grand opening of our newly-remodeled and expanded facility with six additional state-of-the-art surgical suites, a conference room for training and meetings, and a cafeteria. It is an exciting time to be involved in the world of implant dentistry as new technologies and advancements continue to open up the myriad of treatment options available to our patients.

We use CT scanning technology when necessary for diagnostic purposes, or when planning to place a non-removable prosthesis the day of implant placement. I don’t believe everyone is a candidate for a same-day final non-removable prosthesis. In my opinion, the jury is still out on some of the latest technology. Computer Tomography is an invaluable resource, but I believe that panoramic radiographs and surgical experience coupled with comprehensive implant education is more valuable than a single piece of equipment. I am concerned that an attempt to substitute technology for sound education, training, and experience may lead to unnecessary failure of implants, which will negatively impact implantology in the eyes of our patients and within our dental community.

I can say with absolute certainty that the most valuable asset for any dentist considering restoring and/or surgically placing implants in their practice is membership in the American Academy of Implant Dentistry (AAID). As the oldest implant organization in the world and the only one to provide bona fide credentials in implant dentistry that are recognized by the judicial system, the AAID is absolutely invaluable to my practice. I attended the MaxiCourse® sponsored by the AAID in the fall of 2000 - the only extensive and comprehensive implant education program of its kind. Some of the most preeminent and respected researchers and doctors taught at this course and I built significant relationships with many of them, including Dr. Norman Cranin, Dr. Craig Cooper, and Dr. Carl Misch.

Additionally, I was relieved to discover that the course was not sponsored by implant manufacturers or medical companies. Although the students are introduced to many of the recognized systems, the MaxiCourse simply strives to provide the highest level of education without an ulterior agenda. MaxiCourses are sponsored in the United States and around the globe.

At the end of the course, I had met the education requirements necessary to sit for the written portion of the Associate Fellow credential offered by the AAID. I passed the comprehensive written and oral examinations and received my credential in 2002. Now I look forward to becoming a Diplomate of the American Board of Oral Implantology, the highest level of credentials available. I will soon sit before the Board for written and oral examinations, and becoming a Fellow of the AAID is my goal for 2008.

I firmly believe that in order to protect the best interests of the public and uphold the reputation of implant dentists throughout the country, education and credentialing is necessary and valuable. Though some level of information can be gleaned from weekend or week-long courses, no other course provides the same extensive education, nor does any other organization provide the same degree of continuing education courses in fields such as bone and sinus grafting as the AAID.

Even if you aren’t seeking a credential, general membership in the AAID is invaluable. I receive continual updates via newsletters and publications - both electronic and print, that keep me on the leading edge.

Most importantly, however, membership has helped me establish relationships with colleagues who have become my friends and mentors. Our members are general dentists and specialists from the United States and around the world. Since many of these practitioners developed the procedures we currently use, the ability to access them for information is absolutely invaluable. At any given time, I am able to call up one of my mentors to guide me to the answers I seek. Without this, I couldn’t practice with the same degree of confidence. I enjoy being approached by new and prospective members and am proud to share my experiences.

Dr. Dunson shares my belief in the value of networking to help our respective patients, “If we have knowledge, we share that knowledge and that’s how we know we are providing the best available care.”

The AAID provides me with the highest levels of support, facilitating meetings and seminars to educate my staff and me on the latest developments in implant dentistry. Our 56th Annual Meeting in Las Vegas is scheduled from Nov. 7-11, and is titled, “Excellence through Evidence-Based Implant Dentistry.” It promises to be astounding. I encourage everyone to attend. Don’t forget to bring your staff.

Everyone practicing dentistry should offer implants as a treatment alternative. Once you start your educational journey, the possibilities for improving your practice and the lives of your patients through implant dentistry are nearly limitless. Any dentist can add implantology to his or her practice and reap the rewards. Implant dentistry has re-invigorated my practice and keeps me on the leading edge of quality care for my patients.

Our patients are the true beneficiaries of implantology - liberated from the pain and discomfort of dentures forever. When an 86-year-young woman receives her final prosthesis and loses her breath when she smiles at the prospect of enjoying her “teeth” again, the benefits of implantology are truly heartfelt.

Jeffrey Meister, DDS, has been practicing dentistry in Munster, Ind., for nearly 20 years. He is an Associate Fellow with the American Academy of Implant Dentistry and a member of many other professional organizations including the American Dental Association, The International Association for Orthodontics, and the Academy of Computerized Dentistry. For more information about the AAID, please visit or call (877) 335-AAID (2243).

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