The opening symposium at the Academy of Osseointegration's 31st Annual Meeting started off by welcoming attendees from 71 countries around the world. The first day's sessions evolved around the topic of risks and rewards in implant dentistry, which reminded me of my childhood book called "Don't eat the Marshmallow- yet." The book is based on an interesting Stanford University study that showed that the so-called “marshmallow test” is predictive of future life success. The test goes like this. A child is given a marshmallow and is promised that he or she will be given another marshmallow if he or she resists eating for fifteen minutes. The results showed that the children who were able to delay gratification and waited for the second marshmallow grew up to be significantly more successful compared to those who ate the marshmallow right away.
This is not to say that delaying rewards and taking risks is always right. The same risk vs. reward scenario happens in dental implant treatments as explained by Dr. Frank Spear. Understanding risks and rewards is important before treatment planning for implant placement, and various factors come into play to weigh whether the rewards trump potential risks. Dr. Spear explained that often times, what is possible is not always what is predictable. The most important factor is looking at the long-term treatment plan and understanding the difference between management and cure. Dental treatment is not always about managing and fixing current problems but looking at the long-term cure and lifespan of the patient, especially if the patient is young. Age of the patient is the first question physicians need to ask to predict how long the implant restorations will last and whether immediate treatment is required or should be delayed. Dr. Spear shared some cases where patients were not treated with an implant over 20 years ago and managed to survive as nature took care of itself. Physicians' first reaction when they see an X-Ray is that the tooth needs to be replaced with an implant. That is called the "force of habit" where decisions are often skewed towards solutions we are most familiar with even when they may not necessarily be the best available solutions. Dental implants 10 years from now will have definitely improved so much with the evolving technology, and physicians need to ask themselves whether delaying gratification now will have greater success for the patient in the long term.
The session ended by asking “Is it a real problem or a perceived problem?”. I think this is a life lesson we need to learn and ask ourselves when dealing with our own problems in our lives. We are often busy satisfying our current desires, whether it is hunger or money that we forget to look at the long-term solution. After all, science proves that our ability to resist our marshmallows can predict our future success. Whatever our marshmallows may be, we need to think about our risks and rewards in the long term similar to how dentists should think of treatments over the lifetime of a patient.