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Features / August 11, 2023

Tony Aherne: a rewarding challenge

by Rowan Thomas

Tony Aherne

Irish Dentistry Awards judge Tony Aherne talks about implant dentistry, his session at the upcoming Irish Dentistry Show and what the future has in store.

Please tell us about your background.

I was very fortunate to have been mentored by Professors Brian Barrett and Denis O’Mullane at Cork Dental Hospital. 

I was also fortunate to be mentored by Professor Peter Schärer of Zurich, who was one of the most brilliant, influential colleagues of his time.  

I am a former lecturer in restorative dentistry in Cork Dental Hospital, as well as a life member and former secretary treasurer of the European Academy of Aesthetic Dentistry. 

I have lectured extensively in Ireland and Europe and have had many articles published in peer-reviewed journals. In addition, I am a founder of the Irish Academy of Aesthetic Dentistry.

What challenges have you faced?

Performing high quality dentistry is a constant but rewarding challenge. 

All dentists face constant challenges, as dentistry is quite a demanding and skilled profession. Attending meetings, going to courses, improving and developing skill sets are on all of our agendas.  

You’re presenting at the Irish Dentistry Show on 9 September. What will you be discussing during your session?

With changing expectations for dental treatment, aesthetics has become a fundamental component in defining successful rehabilitation with dental implants. 

The durability of the gingival contours, as well as the colour of the adjoining tissues, are critical for the long-term maintenance of successful treatment outcomes. 

All of the influencing factors will be discussed, including the stability of the interface, implant material, bone and soft tissue augmentation as well as patient biology.

The three key learning aims for attendees are:

  • Learn to plan for the at-risk patient when placing implants
  • Material choices and recognising the importance of the interface
  • Options with regard to bone and soft tissue grafting.

What is it about dental implants that makes the treatment so exciting for you?

In historical terms, dental implants were not an accepted treatment norm until Professor Branermark completed his ground-breaking research on dental implants in the 1960s and 1970s. We must remember that, initially, his success rate was only 50%. 

In the early days of my practice, dental implants were new and exciting but there was so much that we didn’t know. 

Over the years, the heady developments in techniques and materials now offers us boundless treatment opportunities for the benefit of our patients. 

Do you have a preferred implant system?

We have tried many implant systems over the course of my professional career, and we are not going to promote any particular system.

Now we use just one system that uses grade four pure titanium with a rough surface, which is etched and sandblasted. In addition, it is a tissue level implant with a polished collar placed in supra-crestal position. 

It is also important to have a very secure connection between the implant and abutment. 

One of the more salient aspects of implant integration is the surface cleanliness of the implant and healing abutment. Contamination on implant surfaces is not uncommon even though they have been sterilised with gamma radiation. 

It’s always advisable to check with the implant manufacturer as to whether the implant surface has been certified as completely clean and free of debris. Check out for more on this.

What does the future hold for dentistry?

There is a general consensus that demand will increase for dental implants with a consequent increase in the incidence of peri-implantitis. In addition, the treatment strategies for peri-implantitis will improve. 

In the short-term, developments of the materials and techniques will continue.

The use of zirconia dental implants, despite its limitations as a material, will become more common, in addition to design changes to speed up treatment times.

Digital workflow will become the treatment norm with so many exciting developments in store in this area.

In the longer term, stem cell technology will come into play. An additional area that is getting attention at the moment is transplantation of teeth. 

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