* Q3 net profit 7 mln euros vs 5.4 mln forecast
* Says back to performing on par with peers
* Still expects dental market to decline in 2012
* Shares rise almost 3 pct (Adds details, shares, analyst)
ZURICH, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Swiss dental implant maker Nobel Biocare beat third-quarter earnings forecasts as cost savings and a focus on more profitable implants h e lped it to catch up with peers in a tough market for the first time in four years.
The dental implants market has been hit hard by a faltering global economy, as cash-strapped consumers cut back or put off work on their teeth.
Nobel Biocare, which makes screw-in prosthetic teeth that can cost thousands of dollars apiece, has also suffered years of turmoil after an aggressive marketing campaign tarnished its standing among industry experts and Swedish professors questioned the safety of some of its products.
The group said on Thursday it swung to a quarterly net profit of 7 million euros ($8.9 million) from a loss of 2.2 million a year ago, beating the average analyst forecast in a Reuters poll of 5.4 million euros.
"For the first nine months we see clear evidence that our strategy is working. We are performing on par with our peers for the first time in four years," Chief Executive Richard Laube said.
Shares in Nobel Biocare were trading up 2.8 percent at 8.45 Swiss francs by 0915 GMT, compared with a flat European healthcare sector index as investors cheered the cost savings and the success of the firm's more recent marketing strategies.
However, Vontobel analyst Carla Baenzinger cautioned the market for dental implants would remain challenging, holding back prospects for growth and improvements in profitability.
Nobel Biocare said it still expects a modest decline in the global dental market for 2012 as high unemployment and a bleak economic outlook hit consumer confidence.
Last week local rival Straumann said it would shed 150 jobs as it seeks to improve its margins.
Nobel Biocare sales in Europe fell 3.7 percent in the quarter, dragged down by a weak performance in Sweden, Spain and Italy as well as tough markets in the Netherlands and Germany.
Negative publicity about dental implants in Japan also hit sales in Asia which dropped 15.5 percent in the quarter.
Nobel Biocare confirmed its full-year forecast for revenue to fall by a low single digit percent at constant exchange rates.
$1 = 0.7840 euros Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz and Caroline Copley; Editing by Mark Potter