How to get Started with Learning Dental Implants

I’ve gotten this question a lot recently from new grads. They say something like,

“I had an implant course in school but I still don’t feel confident to actually place implants. There seem to be so many training courses but I feel a little overwhelmed because I don’t know where to start. Any tips?”

I totally get it. I went through the same thing. I had an implant course in dental school which absolutely did not prepare me for implant surgery. Sure, I learned the history of implantology and vaguely remember some occlusion stuff –MUDL LUBL, red and blue dot non-sense (YOU know what I’m talking about lol) but not much practical stuff.

If you Google dental implant training, you’ll see this:

Okay, so there are like 100’s different places to learn. All of them are charging $1,000 for their class. Which one should you take? Should you take an immersive course in the Dominican Republic where you slice & dice and place 30 implants in 4 days? Should you take a course hosted by an implant company that tries to sell you a $10,000 implant package at the end of the course? 

Decisions decisions…

I’d like to give you some advice I wish I had when I first wanted to learn to place dental implants.

First off, it’s a journey. You’re not going to learn it all in one day, or one weekend, or even in one year. So, you should plan accordingly.

Now, here is how I suggest you approach your learning:

1) Learn the Didactic first. You need to know surgical anatomy for dental implants, space requirements, medical screening, and case planning from a pano. This will set the foundation and you will build on top of this throughout your career. 

You can learn the didactic from a book or a course. I don’t recommend randomly watching implant videos on Youtube because most of those videos don’t show you how the case turned out and most don’t explain all the important things that are going on.

2) Next, you should learn the technical steps of placing an implant. You need to know the exact step by step process of placing an implant such as which pieces go where, what drills to use, and what torque you’re aiming for. 

Youtube might be helpful for this, but another great resource is a local sales representative for an implant manufacturer. Remember, they are there to help you learn their product! Definitely make the most of this and pick their brains regularly. However, just because they helped you doesn’t mean that you have to buy from them!

3) Then, when you have a good understanding of the didactic principles and you know the technical aspects of placing an implant, you have to practice like crazy. Practice, practice, practice—on models! (let’s not move on to patients just yet)

Once you understand the technique, you need to develop muscle memory so that you can perform implant surgery without even thinking about it. This is important because if something goes wrong during a real procedure, you can’t afford to be clumsily thinking about what step comes next–you have to go through your procedure fluidly and troubleshoot anything that comes up. 

Get a decent bone model and place like 100 implants on it. Oh you don’t have 100 implants? ;) Just place one implant, then back it out and place it over and over. Implant sales reps are pretty good about giving you an implant and a model to practice with.

4) Make a surgical friend! Take a local oral surgeon or periodontist out to lunch and tell them about your endeavors. (Believe me, you are not their competition!) If you’re a dental student, sit down with one of your faculty members and tell them your implant goals. This really helps so that someone can help you if you run into any trouble or get stuck on something.

5) Now you’ve got the theory down. You’ve mastered the technical aspects and can place an implant in a bone model in your sleep. (You basically sleep with your implant model under your pillow.)

Now is when you should consider moving on to live patients.

There are a couple of ways to do this:

  1. Attend a live patient implant course. There are a few around where you fly to the course and get to place a few implants. You may want to look into the course by Arun Garg or Samuel Lee. (For Sam’s hands-on component you must have a California dental license)
  2. Another option is to tell your patient that you are learning dental implants and that you will offer them a discounted price for allowing you to place an implant on them. Of course you will tell them that you learned about implants in school and that you have been plugging hours away in additional learning and training. Surprisingly, patients tend to be pretty easygoing about this. I’ve heard things like, “I trust you doc. If you say you can do it, that’s fine with me.” If you can find some great patients like these, you can gradually build up your skills.
  3. If you want supervision while you work on your patients, you can also have us travel to your office and work together with you on your patients. You would basically have 3-4 patients lined up for the day and we would go over everything with you and coach you and your staff through the entire implant procedure. Your daily production basically makes up for the tuition. (Click here to read more about In Office Implant Training)

6) Get connected to other implant clinicians. Join an implant group on Facebook and read the discussions on topics that you find interesting. Follow us on Instagram for our regular implant tips. Join a study club. It is so important to stay attuned to what others are doing so that you get a head’s up about what else is out there. Definitely don’t just go try techniques just because you saw it on Instagram. But social media will help you stay in touch and updated on implant stuff. 

7) Find practical ways to improve your technique! For instance, rather than attending a course on “Harvesting Calvarial bone for Block Grafts” go to a course on “Socket Grafting Tips” or “Guided Implant Surgery Workflow.” Make sure they are things that you will apply right away and add another tool to your belt.

That’s it! You just slowly build from there. Emphasis on slowly. It is very important for your career and your mental health for you to take it slowly and carefully. You will have failures, but that’s completely okay and expected! What is important is that you learn from every procedure and continuously improve yourself. 

Best, 

Ivan 

PS. Have you checked out our online implant course? It guides you along the path I’ve outlined above. Cheers!

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