It seems that the experience and expertise of implant specialist is very important. How does one go about selecting an dental implant "team" or specialist? Should a prosthodontist always be involved from the start? Any specific questions one must ask of the implant team?
You have asked a very good question. It is extremely important to make sure that the person performing your dental implant treatment knows what he or she is doing. This involves having advanced training not only in how to perform the procedure, but also how to avoid problems and how to treat them if they do occur.
Generally specialists (such as a prosthodontist) have to go through a vigorous multi-year educational program which teaches them how to diagnose problems as well as how to treat them before they can get their specialty credentials. Someone who takes a weekend course and who has not been treating dental implant patients for very long is not going to have the same level of expertise. That is not to say that a non-specialist would not be a good choice, however, but you need to make sure that they have had comparable education and experience.
As for how to choose a dental implant team, there are several approaches that you can take.
First, if you trust your regular dentist, you can ask him or her for a recommendation. Your dentist should know who the good practitioners in your area are, and who will work well with the "team." If your dentist will be part of the team, you should ask him or her the same questions that you would ask an unknown referral. Ask about their experience. Ask how many years they have been involved with implant therapy. What type of education have they received in the past as well as currently? (Things change and you want your provider to be up to date on those changes.) What parts of the procedure will they perform? How comfortable are they with your particular treatment? Can you speak to patients who have had the procedure already?
Second, you should ask questions of the staff. A well trained staff is often an indication of a doctor who takes pride in his or her work and values his staff enough to train them properly. If you don't get a good feeling from the staff, you may want to get another opinion. Finally, you can ask friends and family about their experiences. I have often found that the best dentists in the area often get mentioned by multiple people.