Many years ago, I had a “series of unfortunate events” involving my front teeth. To summarize yet spare you the gory details, they decided to become detached from the rest of me on four different occasions. While the dentist put them back in each time, it was only a matter of time until they would need to come out, and I would need dental implants.
In my late twenties, that time began to approach. My body began to reabsorb the teeth. I began to look at options for what would come next. A bridge? Some kind of dentures like mouthpiece? A permanent rural KY farmer smile with year-round singing of “all I want for Christmas is my two front teeth…”?
I eventually settled on dental implants, and the discussion below covers what I learned about them along the way.
Dental Implants Usually Involve LOTS of Antibiotics
My first concern when looking at implants was the number of antibiotics often used in the process. Since I had damaged and degraded bone, I needed bone grafts on top of the tooth implants proper.
The materials used in bone grafts often come from a cadaver or porcine sources. This material is impregnated with antibiotics. Then, on top of those antibiotics, many doctors will also give prescription antibiotics post-surgery.
Some will also do antibiotics during surgery. Getting dental implants, especially if you have other issues to address at the same time, can turn into an antibiotic storm that can have a years-long negative impact on your health.
Since I didn’t want to destroy my gut and crush my immune system as a side effect of the procedure, I looked for a biological dentist to minimize these risks.
Natural Dental Implants
Many of the holistic dentists who do low to no antibiotics with implants make use of a mixture of ultra-modern and traditional means to prevent infection.
For my team (my local dentist and the doctor who performed the implants), this involved ozone injections and treatments a week before surgery, the use of ozonated ice cubes and iodine applied via a toothbrush post-surgery, and a number of tools and techniques used during surgery.
As a result, I used no antibiotics whatsoever!
During surgery, the doctor used ozone to keep the surgical site sterile and protected from any unwanted pathogens from getting trapped inside. This is one of the main drawbacks of modern dentistry, especially cavities. Dentists drill them out, only to then apply a filling or sealant that seals harmful bacteria in between the filling and the healthy tooth. Root canals have the same problem.
Years later the problem resurfaces, often having done immense damage in the meantime. But like with plumbing hidden behind walls, you don’t know just how bad the damage is until it is really, really, really bad.
Ozone or a similar method that keeps areas sterile is crucial to good, modern dentistry! I wouldn’t get any dental procedures done without it, especially tooth implants!
Types of Bone Grafts
Dental implants can frequently involve the use of bone grafts. When this occurs, there is a concern that the body may reject them.
While bone isn’t as big a deal as other organ transplants, I still had concerns over foreign material. Many doctors use animal or human bone materials to make bone grafts. This introduces foreign materials into your body, which can sometimes lead to known and unknown issues. Implantation of tissues especially from another species can cause a negative immune response and ongoing problems with inflammation.
The journal BMC Medical Ethics points out that bone grafts made from your own body are best.
Autologous bone grafts come from donor sites in the patient’s own body and have osteoconductive and osteoinductive properties. Such autologous bone grafts also contain osteogenic cells that help reduce the bone healing time. Allografts are another type of bone graft in which the bone is taken from another donor of the same species, and are typically obtained from human cadavers and subsequently subjected to processing. Xenografts consist of bone tissue taken from a different species and have osteoconductive properties and preserve the original bone mineral structure, which is more complex than that of synthetic materials, i.e., alloplastics. (1)
How Natural Bone Grafting Works
As a result, I sought out a dentist who was able to use autologous bone grafts for my implants. I wanted to avoid allografts and xenografts if at all possible to avoid future health issues.
Some biological dentists now make bio-identical bone grafts on site. All the fine details are beyond me, but this is a good summary.
First, they start with a sterile bone matrix, similar to what your body lays down in the space between a broken bone to begin the repair process. To this they add your own purified blood, isolating specific healing compounds. Sometimes, they also take very small amounts of your existing bone to add to this mix. It is then packed into the graft site and given a number of months for the body to “turnover” the mixture into the bone.
It is an AMAZING process. Also, it has the added benefit of helping to reduce the risk of infection and the need for antibiotics. Since the surgical site is filled with the most powerful components of your own blood, immunity factors included, the risk of infection is far, far lower from the get-go! Because it is just “you” in there, your risk of rejection, inflammation, and immune response issues is greatly reduced.
Titanium vs Ceramic Implants
For many decades, titanium was the “go-to” material for dental implants. It accounted for approximately 97% of the total dental implant market. The reason is that the use of titanium tooth implants is well-documented in the research, which lauds its high survival and success rates.
Living bone tissue likes titanium. It will attach to it, and do so firmly. In addition, titanium is biocompatible with bone structure and relatively non-reactive. Also, it is incredibly strong. This is kind of important for the next time you accidentally bite down on something hard or if you ever want to enjoy a crisp, juicy apple again!
However, in recent years, more dentists have called into question the use of metals for tooth implants.
Health Risks from Titanium Implants
The risks from titanium dental implants are four-fold.
- Though uncommon, titanium allergy definitely exists with compelling evidence in both clinical and laboratory settings. This may induce implant failure. (2, 3)
- Allergic reactions to metals are associated with delayed healing. (4)
- Implanted metal devices including titanium can trigger a negative immune response. (5)
- Metal ions from titanium implants can accumulate in nearby lymph nodes. This occurs despite the excellent corrosion resistance of titanium. (6)
These problems occur due to bone adhesion and integration. This process is also called “osseointegration,” which means the bone and metal become one!
Benefits of Ceramic Implants over Metal
In recent years, an alternative to titanium has come to market. These are called ceramic implants, and they are made of materials such as zirconium oxide. Not every person or situation will permit the use of ceramic instead of metal for implants. But, when possible, they have a number of advantages.
Less Reactive than Titanium
The main benefit of ceramic implants is that they are even less reactive than titanium. (7)
This inflammation is driven by a number of factors, but the implant material and type of bone grafts used are the primary culprits. Diet, rest and other lifestyle factors matter as well.
A good biological dentist will perform biocompatibility testing before the implants. While it adds time and additional expense, if you have any concerns or possible reason that you may have an issue with the chosen implant material, it is worth taking the extra precautions. Dental implants are an expensive and time-consuming process. You want to do everything in your power to encourage that they “take”.
For my situation, the ceramic implants were the clear winner.
Ceramic tooth implants also have a large aesthetic advantage over titanium. Note in the picture above how the shiny metal is easily seen next to the gum tissue. Well, if you have thin or receding gums (a common problem after implants, by the way), ceramic will look a whole lot better.
Non-conductive and Inert
Another growing concern is that most people’s living and work environments are awash in EMF radiation 24/7.
Having metal implanted in your gums opens up the potential for your head to become a cell phone tower, as one doctor bluntly describes it.
On the other hand, ceramic is non-conductive and totally inert. Ceramic implants do not interfere with, attract or carry electromagnetic fields of any kind. In our wired world, it is the preferred material to have installed near your brain!
Dental Implant Cost
Dental implants are expensive. They also require a lot of time to get done properly This is especially so if you need bone or have other complicating factors.
From start to finish my journey included three surgeries across 20 months. In addition, I required a few extra trips to my local dentist beyond normal cleanings and exams. Now, I realize, my implants were close to “a worst-case scenario.”
Costs vary wildly for dental implants. Interestingly, the out of town dentist I settled on was slightly less expensive than local dentists that used older or less holistic approaches to implants, bone grafts, and the like.
Don’t automatically assume that going the natural route is going to cost more!
Consider Medical Tourism for Implants
In addition, be prepared to travel if necessary to get the best care. If you live in an area where natural dental implants are expensive or nonexistent, you might want to consider medical tourism. This can save you many thousands of dollars and/or the health risks from conventional implants!
The trade-off for using an out of town dentist? Each time I needed to see him, it involved at least two lost days. One for travel to the city where his office is and one for the procedure itself. This doesn’t count recovery time once I got home.
To some extent, unless you are fortunate, you are going to have to travel to find a good biological dentist anyway. So, for us, we made the best of being medical tourists. We went up to the city my doctor was in a day or two early, enjoying a few nice dates and meals as part of the package!
Here are a few biological dentists to consider if you don’t have one where you live. There are definitely others, but these are the ones Sarah is aware of.
- Raymond Silkman DDS, Los Angeles CA
- Michael Baylin DDS Baltimore, MD
- Carl McMillan DMD, Cary NC
- Carlo Litano DDS, Pinellas Park FL (this is Sarah’s dentist. He sees children as well. Mention The Healthy Home Economist and receive 10% off your first visit!)
- Ray Behm DDS, Clearwater FL
- Michael Gossweiler DDS, Indianapolis IN
Recovery will vary depending on the severity of your situation, age, and other factors.
My first surgery sidelined me for a week. After that, the other two were pretty minor. I needed just a few days to recover from the second surgery and just a day or so for the final.
The good news is that by doing your homework upfront, the time spent getting and recovering from dental implants will be a one-time thing. It won’t cause future health issues that take even more time and money in the coming years!
John Moody is an author, speaker, farmer, homesteader, and Real Food activist. Most importantly, he is husband to an amazing wife and five awesome kids. John speaks nationally at a wide range of events, along with writing for numerous publications and consulting for farmers, homesteaders, and food businesses.
He recently published his first book, The Frugal Homesteader: Living the Good Life on Less.