They’re the subject of songs, poems and proverbs, and we all know someone whose smile can light up a room. But for those with missing or broken teeth, smiling is something to be avoided. “It’s so hard on people for so many reasons,” explains Dr. Bob Willis, a prosodontist at ClearChoice Dental Implant Center in St. Louis. “Besides affecting their appearance and self-esteem, there’s a huge lack of function, including affecting their dietary choices. Nice, crunchy or chewy food that everyone enjoys? People with broken teeth avoid eating those things because it hurts!” This can lead to nutritional problems, he adds, because so many nutritious foods, like raw fruits and vegetables, are often crunchy. “They end up choosing soft foods that may be high in carbohydrates.”
Opening in St. Louis in 2008, ClearChoice Dental Implant Center offers implant dentistry for a single tooth or an entire set of teeth. Dental implants have significant advantages over a bridge—a traditional choice for replacing missing teeth, Willis explains. “With a bridge, you have to grind the adjoining, healthy teeth down so they can support the fake tooth in the middle, essentially fusing them all together. A dental implant is made from titanium that fuses to the bone, and doesn’t compromise the ‘virgin’ healthy teeth.”
Because of the all-in-one treatment center, including 3D CAT scanning technology and a dental implant lab, most patients can have all of their dental work performed in a single day, and Willis says this is very appealing for those who have postponed treatment. “People often tell us, I’ve had this for awhile, and it’s true—dental problems like this don’t come on overnight, they come on over the years,” he explains. “Maybe a tooth cracked, and then broke, and they have a fear of dentistry. So when they finally come in, they say, When you guys said I could go to sleep and wake up with new teeth—that’s what got me here! Is that really true? And it is—after initial consultation, we can often replace a full arch of teeth in one day.”
Explaining the natural look of dental implants, Willis and his partner, oral surgeon Dr. Richard Kapitan, emphasize a personalized approach. “It’s not like a car bumper where we bolt on ‘teeth set number 25.’ We have our own lab with very talented, artistic master-level technicians who set all the teeth individually.” When he meets with a patient, Willis gets specific details. “I ask for pictures of them when they were in high school and had all of their teeth. There might be a distinctive little space and they’ll tell me their mom, or their brother has that same space. So I ask them if they want us to do that on their new teeth. The response is usually: Yeah! Can you do that?”
After 27 years in practice, Willis is still moved by the reaction patients and their families have to their new appearance. “I hear things like, You gave me my husband back—I haven’t seen him look like this in so long! Their personality comes back, along with their confidence. They can laugh out loud without covering their mouth, or race the kids to the bottom of the cornon- the-cob, or go to Eckert’s and bite into a fresh apple.” Willis shares his patients’ enthusiasm. “I didn’t get a whole lot of hugs and happy tears when I was doing root canals, but I sure get them now!”
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