The Do-It-All Dentist

From fillings to implants, practice provides truly comprehensive array of services.

Since leaving her home in the Bronx, New York, several years ago, Teresa Lopez has largely dedicated herself to improving her current home community of Melbourne and helping its businesses and citizens. 

From 2014 to 2019, Teresa held a seat on the Melbourne City Council. Since leaving that post, she has continued her work in the community by becoming an active volunteer with two of its most important civic organizations.

“One of them is the Florida Puerto Rican/Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the other is a civil rights organization called United Third Bridge,” Teresa says. “I organize events for them, help with networking and do some budgeting.

“I’ve actually been retired since 2005, but instead of spending my time with hobbies and things like that, I devote most of my time to my volunteer work. I just feel like my community needs me much more, and I’m glad to be able to do what I can.”

A lot of what Teresa, 68, has done for her community was done while she fought a personal battle with a lower denture that she received nearly 30 years ago, long before she dedicated her life to public service.

“I got that denture when I was about 40 years old,” Teresa says. “I had to get it because I started getting a lot of abscesses in my gums. Because of that, I eventually had to have all my teeth pulled.

“The denture was fine for years. I didn’t have any problems with it. But then, about three years ago, my gums started to get very sensitive and sore. Part of it was because the denture wasn’t as stable as it had been before.

“It was actually moving a little bit, and that had a reflection on my speech. It also affected my bite. The denture wasn’t functioning properly, so I went with my husband to his dentist appointment one day and asked his dentist about it.”

The dentist Teresa visited is Richard Leong Jr., DDS. He is a general and implant dentist who practices comprehensive, full-treatment dentistry, including full mouth reconstructions. His first visit with Teresa was last April, and it was mostly exploratory on Teresa’s part.

Having previously read an article about them in Brevard Health Care News, Teresa specifically wanted to know if she was a candidate for mini dental implants, which are anchoring devices for various forms of replacement teeth.

Like regular dental implants, mini implants are root-shaped, screw-like bodies that are surgically seated in the jawbone. Once the implant is placed, new bone naturally grows around it to form the foundation for an abutment and replacement teeth.

The replacement teeth can be a single crown that is either cemented to or screwed onto the abutment, a partial bridge that can be affixed to one or more implants, or a full denture that can be fastened to a series of implants.

Unique Implants

Teresa was seeking advice on her candidacy for a full, implant-supported denture, but after an initial examination, Dr. Leong explained that the condition of her jawbone prohibited her from being a candidate for either standard or mini implants.

“The reason I had to tell her that was because her jawbone was just gone,” Dr. Leong explains. “If you lose a tooth or several teeth and they’re never replaced, the jawbone slowly shrinks away over time because it no longer has a function.

“That was the case with Teresa. It wasn’t the denture that was the problem. The problem was that she had so little jawbone left that there was no more suction to hold the denture in place.

“Being in the public eye as much as she is, she badly needed some kind of retention for her denture, but with so little jawbone to work with, there was only one type of implant that could help her. That is something called a subperiosteal implant.”

Unlike traditional dental implants, subperiosteal implants rest on top of the jawbone. They are placed beneath the gums and seated like a saddle across the jawbone, and the gums grow over them to hold them in place.

“It’s the framework of the implant that’s seated under the gum and across the jawbone,” Dr. Leong educates. “This appliance is very strong, and it actually strengthens the weakened jawbone, which is another benefit to this sort of prosthetic.

“The framework is under the gums. Attached to that framework is a post with a little ball on top. Inside the denture, there’s a little socket, and the denture attaches through that little ball-and-socket connection.

“That’s one of the great things about these implants. The denture just snaps in and pops out, but it doesn’t come out or move when you’re chewing or talking, and you can take the denture out and clean it very easily.”

When fitting a patient such as Teresa, who was looking to secure a full lower denture, Dr. Leong typically seats three subperiosteal implants, one on each side near the back of the jaw and one in the front.

“But it’s a very intricate procedure,” Dr. Leong stresses. “There aren’t many dentists who can do this work because the implants and the denture need to be customized so the patient has proper function and aesthetics.

“In fact, in terms of aesthetics, I can actually enhance the way a person looks with these implants. I can give someone a more youthful appearance by making bigger dentures to fill in the face where they’ve lost a lot of the bone.”

As is the case with traditional and mini dental implants, subperiosteal implants require several months to heal completely. Nevertheless, patients receiving them are fit with their new denture immediately upon receiving the implants.

“The patient may not be able to chew right away because their gums need to heal,” Dr. Leong says. “That takes a week or two. And it takes some time to get used to the new denture as well. But in the end, it’s worth it because you wind up with better function and everything looks better and feels better.”

Terrific Results

Eager to correct the problem she was having with her old denture, Teresa agreed with Dr. Leong’s recommendation. She was finally fit with the subperiosteal implants and a new lower denture shortly before Christmas last year.

She says her gums healed after about a week, and while it took a little longer for her to get used to her new denture, she is overjoyed with the result. She says that outcome is all a result of Dr. Leong’s expertise and meticulous nature.

“It took time to do everything, but that’s because he made sure it was all done perfectly,” she says. “He treated me so well. And the surgery, well, I don’t even recall having the surgery at all.

“My new denture feels so much like real teeth that I completely forget sometimes that it’s a denture.” – Teresa

“There was no pain at all. I was sedated for it, and I was told it took about 3 1/2 hours to do, but it didn’t feel like it. I was aware of what was going on, but the time just flew by, and the next thing I knew, we were finished.”

Teresa says learning how to put the denture in and take it out for cleaning takes some practice, but it soon becomes second nature. She adds that the benefits of having a secured denture make the investment in time a worthy one.

“My new denture feels so much like real teeth that I completely forget sometimes that it’s a denture,” she says. “There’s really no comparison between this and what I used to have. I’m so glad I found Dr. Leong and that he did this for me.”

One for All

Like a lot of youngsters, Jeremy* used to hate it when his father would corral him and his brother into doing yardwork on weekends. Then one Saturday, a neighbor offered Jeremy $15 to mow his lawn for him.

“I was 11 years old, and that was the first money I ever really earned on my own,” Jeremy remembers. “Two weeks later, that same neighbor offered me another $15 to mow his lawn again.

“After that, I started mowing his lawn on a regular basis, every two weeks. Then, after a while, I realized I could make even more money if I could find other neighbors who would pay me to mow their lawn, which I did.

“That’s how I started my lawn-care business. I started with about six customers, just doing their lawns in the summer, but by the time I got out of high school, I had about 20 customers, and I was able to make some good spending money out of it.”

Jeremy’s lawn-care business has grown exponentially in the many years since. He now has a full complement of clients, and he’s expanded the business to include sod replacement and pest control. He can even repair sprinkler systems.

Unfortunately, as Jeremy’s business has grown, his oral health has deteriorated.

“Working for myself, I went for years without dental insurance,” Jeremy says. “I was never much of a fan of going to the dentist anyway, so I ignored a lot of problems that crept up. About five years ago, I really started paying for that.”

A cavity so deep in a lower left molar that Jeremy could not eat or drink without pain prompted his first visit to a dentist in more than 10 years. On the advice of a customer, Jeremy paid that visit to Dr. Leong, who has been treating Jeremy ever since.

“Jeremy first came to see me in 2014,” Dr. Leong reports. “He had a lot of problems, and over the years, I’ve done a lot of work to get him back in shape. We’ve done that work in phases, working from one side of the mouth all the way around to the other.

“Over the years, I’ve done several fillings and crowns, and I was able to save a couple of his teeth by performing root canals. We recently got around to the lower right-hand side of his mouth, where he had a missing tooth between two teeth that were badly decayed.”

To correct this final problem and complete Jeremy’s full mouth reconstruction, Dr. Leong suggested performing root canals on the two remaining teeth, replacing the missing tooth with a dental implant and crowning all three teeth with a bridge of crowns.

“Neither of the teeth surrounding the missing tooth were strong enough to support a bridge, but I could enhance the strength of those teeth by doing the root canals,” Dr. Leong explains. “The implant and bridge would then stabilize that whole area.”

The Best Choice

Jeremy agreed to the plan, and the work began last December. In addition to performing root canals on the two teeth surrounding the missing tooth, Dr. Leong put a new crown on the first bicuspid in that area as well.

He then performed the root canals and placed the implant. By repairing all four teeth in that area, Dr. Leong increased the stability of each tooth, greatly enhancing Jeremy’s chances of keeping the three original teeth for years to come.

“He’s done wonders for me. I really like that . . . I didn’t need to go to other dentists to get some of the more difficult things, like root canals and implants, done.” – Jeremy

“The other good thing is that we were able to do all of that in just two weeks, before he left on a vacation for Christmas,” Dr. Leong notes. “If we had pulled one or two of those other failing teeth, he would have needed months to heal.

“But by devising the treatment plan that we went with, we saved two original teeth and completely stabilized that entire area. And we did it all in just two weeks, which allowed Jeremy to go and enjoy his vacation.”

Jeremy says he enjoyed that vacation immensely, in part because of the improved quality and function of the repaired teeth in the lower right side of his mouth. He adds that his entire quality of life has been improved by the work of Dr. Leong.

“Dr. Leong does great work,” Jeremy raves. “He’s done wonders for me. I really like that through this whole process, I didn’t need to go to other dentists to get done some of the more difficult things, like root canals and implants.

“If you need a root canal done, he does that. If you need an extraction, he does that. He does it all, and I really appreciate that convenience because I feel very comfortable with Dr. Leong. I really trust him, and I highly recommend him.”

* Patient’s name withheld at his request

 

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