Pricey Dental Implants Not Always Necessary, Study Finds
Teeth that are salvageable may be better off treated than replaced, experts say
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In some cases, of course, implants are preferred, Levin said. "There are several cases that usually require tooth extraction and are unsalvageable." For instance, he said, teeth with vertical root fractures or other structural problems.
However, some dentists are over-recommending implants, he said. "This might result from their belief that dental implants are better, which was proved wrong in our review, or from other reasons," he said.
Dr. Edmond Hewlett, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association and a professor of restorative dentistry at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Dentistry, said he doesn't get the sense that dentists are over-recommending implants.
The study, however, makes an important point, he said. "We can't assume an implant is going to be better than keeping the tooth," Hewlett said. "A lot of times keeping the tooth and nursing it along may actually be a better option, all things considered."
If a patient has gum disease, for instance, and the tooth is wiggling a bit, a patient may want to undergo periodontal treatment (such as gum surgery) and allow three to six months to see if the tooth responds, he said.
Some teeth, he agreed, are so damaged it would be difficult to treat them and implants are the best solution.
In the United States the cost for an implant --and the restorative crown that goes over it -- ranges greatly, but can be about $3,500. Treatments for saving teeth vary greatly, depending on what procedures are needed.
Insurance coverage differs, too, with extraction typically included, while coverage for the dental implants can range widely.