In the past, if you lost a tooth or teeth, the only way to replace it was to be fitted with a bridge or dentures. Modern dentistry offers the alternative of dental implants, which are replacement roots or anchors of titanium permanently mounted in the jaw. Permanent or removable false teeth are attached to the implants.
Dental implants can offer many benefits. Because they eventually fuse with the jaw bone, they are more stable than dentures. People with dental implants may be able to talk and eat more easily because they don’t face the risk of their dentures slipping. Implants can be more comfortable than dentures because they don’t move and irritate sensitive gum tissue. Implants eliminate the need to use adhesive to keep dentures in place. The false teeth mounted on the implant are designed to look just like the patient’s natural teeth. Dentures require replacement when the gum tissue shrinks and changes the fit; implants are not affected by this problem.
In preparing a traditional bridge, dentists remove some of the enamel from the teeth adjacent to the empty socket, in order to attach the bridge. Dental implants do not require this procedure, and therefore patients are able to keep more of their own teeth.
Most healthy adults can have dental implants. People with chronic diseases like heart disease or diabetes can be evaluated individually to determine if the procedure is safe for them. The structure of the jaw must be strong enough to support the implant. Heavy smokers are warned to give up smoking before having dental implants due to the increased risk of failure caused by the irritation of the tissues from smoke.
Dental implants have a success rate above ninety percent. Lower jaw implants tend to be slightly more successful than upper jaw implants due to the greater density of the lower jaw. One of the key factors for success is the patient’s own diligence about proper oral hygiene and routine dental care. With proper care, implants can last the rest of the patient’s life.
Dental implants require a waiting period before completion of the crown or bridge. The implant actually attaches to the bone during a process called osseointegration. This process can take up to three months.
Implants can fail. The implant can fail to anchor in the bone. After a period of time, the implant may break or may become diseased or infected. This is often related to poor dental hygiene.
Because implants are still considered a cosmetic procedure by many insurance companies, few dental plans will cover them. The cost can be significant, depending on how many implants are needed.
If the cost is not prohibitive, dental implants can be an excellent lifelong solution to replacing missing teeth. The success rate continues to increase and, aside from cost, the benefits for most patients significantly outweigh the risks. For more detailed information, visit the American Academy of Periodontology.