Grant Aids Ongoing Study of Innovative Procedure

Leah McCarthy needs little prompting to sing the praises of Dr. Maria Papageorge, the Tufts Dental Clinic surgeon who recently guided her through an experimental dental implant procedure available at only a few centers in the United States.

“My treatment plan was complicated and a little intimidating,” McCarthy says. “I had all the confidence in the world in Dr. Papageorge. In addition to being the best at what she does, she is such a compassionate person.”

The procedure, made possible by a grant from Tufts corporate partner Nobel Biocare, is called a zygomatic implant, and involves anchoring implants in the cheek bone. The approach is useful in cases of patients whose traditional implants in the jawbone have failed and in those who have inadequate bone for conventional implants.

“Leah had gone through a great deal before coming to Tufts,” says Papageorge, professor and chair of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. “She had dentures in her 20s, followed by failed implants and bone grafts. When we talked about the options, she told me, ‘I cannot leave the clinic without teeth.’”

The procedure was performed as part of a five-year study on the implants in which Tufts is participating. Surgery was carried out in steps at Tufts Medical Center and then by a prosthetic team at the School of Dental Medicine led by Dr. Robert Chapman, chair of Prosthodontics and Operative Dentistry.

The average cost for such a procedure is $45,000. “Not many patients could afford that,” says Papageorge. “With the grant from Nobel Biocare and our decision to waive all professional and surgical fees, the cost for each of the 10 to 12 patients we expect to enroll in this study will be about a quarter of that.”

McCarthy, who works at a Boston investment firm, says, “I definitely didn’t want to have dentures for the rest of my life. Now my teeth look natural, and I can eat anything—except maybe peanut brittle! I would do it all over in a heartbeat.”

Says Papageorge, “It’s so gratifying to have an outcome like this. It’s why we do what we do.”