Once, individuals who lost some or all of their teeth would be outfitted with dentures – but in a society that values youth and shuns appurtenances of old age, periodontists are having a field day installing dental implants to replace missing teeth.
But implants can be tough on patients. It takes as long as six months for an implant to “take” and integrate itself to the jawbone (a process known as osseointegration), and success is not at all guaranteed. In many patients, the jawbone that the implant has to integrate into is too weak or does not have sufficient mass to enable successful integration.
To help things along, an Israeli medical technology firm called Magdent has developed an electromagnetic-based technology that, according to studies by the company and research in the bone field, can considerably speed up the osseointegration process and improve bone quality in patients who are having trouble getting their implants in place.
The company, a portfolio start-up of the Misgav-based Trendlines venture capital firm and incubator, announced Sunday that it had raised its first $800,000 from private investors. The money, the company said, will go towards further development of its solution, as well as to getting approval from the various regulatory authorities for commercial sale of the system.
According to Dr. Shlomo Barak, an oral surgeon and founder and CEO of Magdent, the system “could change the approach of dentists and doctors to implants in general, and especially to the process by which infections resulting from the implantation process are treated.”
The market for implants is strong, and growing stronger. In the US alone, 5 million people have crown and bridge replacements for missing teeth, while 3 million have implants – with that number growing by 500,000 a year. As implant technology improves and prices come down, expect many more patients to go for the procedure, say industry experts.
To place a dental implant in a patient’s mouth, a periodontist generally installs a post made of titanium into the area where the new tooth will eventually be implanted. The patient then waits for osseointegration to take place – a process that generally takes three to six months – and then an abutment (connector) is placed on top of the implant, connecting the post to the individual tooth or bridge that provides the patient with almost good-as-new teeth.
What concerns Magdent is that period between the installation of the post and the point where it is ready for the abutment and teeth to be added. The process does not always go smoothly; if a patient’s teeth have deteriorated to the point where they need an implant, chances are that their gums – and the bone inside the gum, to which the implant must attach for the process to work – aren’t healthy either.
To rectify this, periodontists will sometimes prescribe osteogenesis, a procedure to graft bone onto the area where the post needs to attach, in order to increase the chances of a successful “merger” of the post into the jawbone. Besides being painful, that procedure could increase the “time to tooth” by more months. Those who need the procedure but balk at it (as many as half of older patients, according to Magdent) are at high risk of implant failure, which means that they will have to either start all over again or break down and get false teeth.
Magdent’s solution to this problem consists of a battery-operated cap that emits an electromagnetic field (essentially a mini-motor), attached to the top of the post. The cap – called the MED (miniaturized electromagnetic device) is small enough to fit most dental implants. A periodontist screws it into the implant, and the electronic field that is emanated wafts into the gums, hastening osseointegration and strengthening the bone.
Barak knows this works because of numerous studies done on electromagnetic fields that show their efficacy in treating bone problems. Several studies conducted in the US and Russia show that pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) increased bone regeneration, enhanced vascular formation (expanding the size of fine arteries in mice), and inducing arteriolar dilation leading to an increase in microvascular blood flow and tissue oxygenation.
Several studies also exist showing the positive effect of electromagnetic fields on oral bone formation and strengthening – but Magdent conducted its own, by following the progress of implant surgery in rabbits. Taking a group of 22 rabbits with roughly the same dental health, the study showed that rabbits that got a MED cap had higher bone density than control rabbits throughout the study, and better bone-to-implant contacts as well.
“These results indicate that the PEMF device stimulated early bone formation around dental implants resulting in higher peri-implant BIC and bone mass already after 2 weeks which suggests an acceleration of the osseointegration process by more than three times,” according to the study, which was published in a recent edition of industry journal Clinical Oral Implants Research.
The system is patented in the US and Europe, said Barak, and the company hopes to conduct a study on humans in the coming months. The rabbit study “is a very important milestone for our technology, and we are very satisfied with the promising results,” he added.