As discussed in a related post, the cost of not replacing missing teeth is a pricey one to pay. The appearance of your teeth and face can change over time as teeth shift and bone structure is lost. Many of us have observed this in older members of our family and community. Surrounding teeth are also negatively affected, shifting and becoming unstable over time. If nothing is done, all of the above becomes unavoidable. Our teeth are designed to work together side by side in our mouths.
With the advancements in oral health technology and treatment, dental implants are proving to be the most viable and effective means of replacing missing teeth and avoiding the issues they lead to. This is because dental implants replace actual root structure that dentures and bridges cannot. Think of it as reinforcing your home’s foundation versus changing your roof shingles.
What are Dental Implants?
In actuality, dental implants are root replacements that are used as an anchor to support a new artificial tooth or bridge. Fashioned from titanium metal into the form of a screw, they are surgically inserted into the jawbone to allow a permanent means of replacing lost teeth. Titanium is used as this metal is able to fuse with your existing bone via a biological process that is known as osseointegration. This occurs because the body does not treat the titanium as a foreign object that should be attacked and expelled.
Can Everyone Get Dental Implants?
Although they can be extremely helpful, the truth is that not everyone has what it takes to have implants successfully placed in their mouths. The most important criteria in determining whether a person can get implants beyond good general health is whether or not they have healthy gums and sufficient bone in their jaw to hold the implant. Periodontal disease, diabetes and heavy smoking can all create an environment where bacteria can adversely affect implants. Osteoporosis as well as long-term steroid use can reduce bone to the point that there is simply not enough available to hold implants in place over time. In some cases bone can be grafted to add a stronger foundation for the implant. This determination is usually made by your dentist or a referred specialist who does dental implants.
How are Dental Implants Done?
As you can imagine, having dental implants placed in your mouth takes time and must be spread over a few dental visits. There is a sufficient level of healing that is required in order to ensure that the implant has bonded with the bone as desired and that there are no complications that could hinder the effectiveness of the implant.
Generally, the steps involved in successfully placing a dental implant are as follows:
A thorough examination is first done to determine whether you meet the criteria required to be eligible for an implant. This involves an overall health check as well as x-rays of the mouth, head and jaw to determine if implants are right for you.
The first part of the surgical process involves cutting into the gum where the tooth is missing in order to place the implant itself. The implant is placed directly into the jaw bone using slow speed drills. The gum is then stitched back up in order to allow the area to heal and the implant to bond with the bone and attach to surrounding gum tissue. This process can take several months to heal.
Once fully healed, the next step is for the dentist or specialist to attach something known as an abutment to the implant. The abutment is a sturdy post that is responsible for attaching a replacement tooth to the actual implant securely. Depending on the health of the individual involved, the abutment may be placed during the first part of surgery.
At this point an artificial tooth (crown) is fashioned that will be attached to the abutment to act as your replacement tooth. In rare cases, it may take more than one appointment to fit the replacement tooth optimally. When replacing several teeth, a bridge may be used with one dental implant on each side to act as a foundation for the entire area.
Life After an Implant
Once fully healed, dental implants can be as good as or even better than your existing teeth. As is the case with your regular teeth, it is important to brush and floss the implanted teeth. Regular dental checkups are also recommended as these teeth will not suddenly make you or your mouth bionic. They are still prone to complications and infections in the surrounding tissues. Your dentist or specialist responsible for your implant will outline a course of action that is likely to involve a few follow up visits over the course of a year to ensure that everything is still going as planned. As with the implant process itself, complications can arise that require immediate attention. It is best to stay in touch with the dentist should you have any questions or concerns (pain, swelling, bleeding).
Dental implants are expensive relative to other means of replacing missing teeth however they are an investment into your oral health and appearance. They should be cared for as such. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for. Replacement teeth usually have a shelf life of 10-15 years while the implants themselves will become permanent fixtures in that wonderful face of yours. If you are interested in learning more about dental implants can positively impact your life contact your dental team today.