Brighter Smiles: Replacement Parts

Tuesday November 14, 2023

It seems I have more and more patients telling me about their upcoming shoulder, hip, and knee replacement surgery. There are other parts that people have replaced, but those are the top three. Most of these people decide to go under the knife to improve their quality of life.
If you were born in the Paleolithic era, you could expect to live to 33 years old. The average global life expectancy in 2010 was more than double this number at 67 years. The main reasons for this are advances in hygiene, food production, and medical care.
On the bright side, if you were born in the Paleolithic era, you would most likely never need a hip replacement. It usually takes longer than 33 years to wear out the joint.
Today, about 2.3% of Americans have had a hip replaced and 4.6% have had a knee replaced. More than a million joint replacements will be done this year and the number continues to grow. The longer we live, the more chance we have of parts needing replacement.
What about teeth? Your lower first permanent molars erupted into your mouth around the age of 6 years old. If you are 50 years old, these teeth have been tolerating chewing, hot coffee, cold ice cream, the occasional popcorn kernel, and maybe even grinding back and forth for 44 years. You have used them every day for 44 years!
What else can you use that much for 44 years that doesn’t require some kind of maintenance? How about that car you drive every day? The car certainly requires maintenance to function properly. The oil needs to be changed on a regular basis. Depending on several factors, the tires need to be rotated to wear evenly and usually need to be replaced after so many miles. I don’t know too many people who drive the same car for 44 years.
Of course, I am not insinuating that everyone needs replacement teeth at some point. I am saying that it is naïve to think that a car, a furnace, a computer, or your teeth will run forever without maintenance, and that they will run better with routine maintenance.
What happens if you don’t do regular maintenance on your car? It will run for a long time, at some point its performance will decrease, and then when it finally decides to quit, it will be catastrophic. You will have to replace your car. How much will it cost to replace your car? Doesn’t it make sense to keep up with the routine maintenance?
Sometimes, even with regular maintenance, parts need to be repaired or replaced. We often have to make a decision on “how” to fix something. Do we patch it up to get some more miles out of it or do we replace the part to extend the serviceability? It may depend on the cost. It may also depend on the risk of the patch failing. You may decide that the risk is too high and go ahead and replace the part, even though it may cost more.
If you were a caveman, we wouldn’t be discussing this. You wouldn’t have a car and most of your own “parts” would make it to your expected 33 years….but you’re not a caveman. You are likely to wear parts out. You may need a hip replacement, or a filling, or a crown.
And remember: Just like regular oil changes and maintenance will help your car run well much longer, regular professional dental maintenance will help keep your pearly whites functioning at peak performance.
Dr. St. Clair maintains a private dental practice in Rowley dedicated to health-centered family dentistry. He has a special interest in treating snoring, sleep apnea and TMJ problems. If there are certain topics you would like to see written about or questions you have please email them to him at

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