If you have suffered the loss of a tooth, there are several replacement options. Traditional treatment options have included bridges, and full or partial dentures. New technological advances in the creation and implementation of dental prosthetics, however, make dental implants the treatment of choice for replacing lost teeth.
Bridges involve capping the teeth adjacent to the missing tooth and attaching a prosthetic tooth to both caps, resulting in a bridge-like formation of prosthetic material over the gum tissue. When more than a few teeth are missing, or when adjacent teeth are not strong enough to support the additional stress of a bridge, partial dentures may be used.
Partial dentures involve creating a dental and gingival prosthesis which is placed over the natural gum tissue and held in place with metal clasps. When a more natural look is desired, ask your dentist if you are a candidate for dental implants.
What Is a Dental Implant?
A dental implant is a modern alternative to other types of dental prostheses. A dental implant is installed in the oral cavity to mirror the natural anatomy of a tooth, using different materials. An implant is comprised of an artificial root as well as an artificial tooth. The artificial root is fabricated from titanium, the same material that has been used for joint replacement therapy for many years and is understood to be well tolerated for long term wear. A support post, called an abutment, is placed onto the artificial titanium root before attaching it to the artificial tooth.
Who Is a Candidate for Dental Implant Placement?
In order to be a good candidate for dental implant placement, your dentist will need to assess whether your bone tissue is strong enough and your gums healthy enough. Other considerations may include:
- Your age and whether your jaw has finished growing
- Some chronic conditions and reduced immunity
- The degree to which a patient’s diabetes is controlled
- Evidence of bruxism (tooth grinding) which can decrease the chances of a successful implantation
Not all conditions preclude the patient from receiving an implant successfully. Your dentist will assess the degree of the concern and evaluate whether treatments such as a bone graft or sinus lift could alleviate the concern of a dental implantation failure.
Your dentist will begin the discussion about possible implantation by visually checking over the teeth, and by taking diagnostic images of the upper and lower jaw. The images will assist your dentist in assessing the presence of bone and help to locate where nerves are in relation to the sinus cavities.
How Are Implants Placed?
Implants are generally placed in two separate appointments. The first appointment involves anchoring the artificial titanium root to the jaw bone. This is done by screwing the titanium into the jaw bone and closing the gum tissue over the artificial root. The dentist will then schedule your next appointment once the gum tissue has had an opportunity to heal, and once the titanium has had sufficient opportunity to bind to the bone tissue for optimal support. The amount of time between appointments can vary from patient to patient but is a minimum of 6 weeks.
Once the implant has healed, your second appointment will involve placing an abutment on the root implant and connecting the false tooth to the abutment. It is not uncommon to return to the dentist for adjustments to the implant in order to ensure perfect placement and comfort as well as maximum utility for the patient.
In the case of multiple teeth being replaced, implants can also be placed into the jaw to allow a bridge to be fitted to either side.
What Are the Benefits of Dental Implants?
You might be surprised to learn that the benefits associated with dental implants extend beyond the aesthetic benefits of a custom-made implant. Without the presence of a root system, jaw bones can begin to resorb. Dental implants reduce bone resorption and provide support to cheeks, gums and lips thereby alleviating a sunken appearance of the tissues on the outside of the mouth.
Additionally, dental implants act as placeholders in the mouth. In the absence of a tooth and root system holding space, other teeth can begin to migrate in the mouth due to loss of support. Furthermore, the lack of one or more natural teeth can result in difficulty eating and chewing a variety of foods that is necessary to support proper nutrition. Implants function as real teeth in the mouth, assisting in chewing and breakdown of various foods and textures.
Missing teeth can result in social dilemmas as the ability to properly pronounce words can be hampered. Missing teeth can also negatively impact our confidence, particularly if the gap is visible during normal interaction. Dental implants are more involved than alternative prosthetic services and are a long-term solution lasting up to 25 years or more. If you think that dental implants could be for you, ask your dentist whether you are a good candidate.