If you are unfortunate enough to have one or more missing teeth then you need to look at replacement options as soon as possible. Aesthetically, having missing teeth will generally make you look older than you are and may also affect your self-confidence and willingness to smile, but you should also replace missing teeth for health reasons.
Missing teeth affect the way your jaw closes and affects your bite. Over time your remaining teeth will move towards the gaps and this can cause problems with the jaw. The gaps are also places where food is easily trapped increasing the probability of tooth decay and gum disease (periodontitis). Dental implants are a perfect solution for missing teeth.
What are dental implants?
The bone will grow around the implant and bond with it over time to form a secure anchor for the replacement tooth. Most dental implants are shaped like a small screw and the sides can be tapered or parallel. Dental implants are very durable and can be used to replace a single tooth or a full arch of teeth. The replacement teeth function like natural teeth and require the same maintenance with regular brushing and flossing.
Dental implants are made of titanium metal because of its compatibility with bone and oral tissues, and its inertness. Modern dental implant techniques were developed in the early 1950s in Sweden and have been very successful. However archaeological finds from Mayan burial sites dated around 600 AD have found jaw bone fragments with shell fragments embedded into bone to replace teeth, showing that the idea has been around for a very long time!
Advantages of dental implants over dentures
Dental implants are more expensive than dentures, but for several reasons they are a much better option to replace missing teeth than dentures or bridgework.
- Dental implants save more of your existing natural teeth than traditional bridgework or partial dentures which anchor to the teeth on either side of the gap. This can be quite damaging to the teeth. Dental implants leave more of your own teeth untouched.
- Once teeth are lost, the bone in the jaw begins to dissolve but dental implants can stop this process. Lower dentures often become loose fitting as the gums shrink which can cause rubbing and sores below the denture, and dental adhesive has to be used.
- Upper dentures tend to stay in place better than lower dentures because of suction with the roof of the mouth. However this can also reduce the taste of the food you are eating. Dental implants don’t have this problem.
- Dental implants are stable and comfortable, and you can talk and eat without worrying about them clicking or wobbling, as dentures can.
- Dental implants offer the same force for biting as natural teeth, while studies have shown that 29% of denture wearers only eat soft foods, and many more avoid eating hard food like steak.
- Dental implants look and feel like natural teeth which may give you more confidence.
How long do dental implants last?
Under proper conditions and with diligent oral hygiene habits, dental implants should last a lifetime. This longevity makes them an excellent investment.
At your first dental appointment you will have a full mouth examination and have X-rays and possibly even a CT scan so that the dentist can get full details of your bone density and the shape of your jaw. After this the dentist will discuss the options available to you based on his findings, and you can decide if you wish to proceed with dental implants based on what they tell you and the advice they give.
The dental implant procedure is usually done under local anesthesia. A precision drill is used where the speed is carefully regulated to prevent heat damage to the bone and the placement and angle is carefully chosen based on the X-rays. Normally the first hole is widened by using progressively wider drills, and there can be between three and seven drilling steps depending on the length and width of the implant. The bone is kept from overheating by regulating the drill speed and using a cooling saline spray. The time taken for one implant is usually between 10 and 30 minutes each.
Once the hole is drilled the implant screw is put in place. The dental practitioner will screw in into place at a precise torque, being careful not to overload the bone, as this will stop the bone bonding with the implant.
In the past, the implant was always left to heal for three to six months before a permanent crown was put in place, but now most implants are installed as a single piece in one session which simplifies the procedure for both the dentist and the patient. After the treatment it is normal to have some swelling and soreness in the gums and soft tissue which can last for three or four days and can be treated with analgesics.
Who is the best candidate?
The best candidate for a dental implant is someone in good general and oral health who wants to replace missing teeth. It is necessary to have adequate bone in your jaw to support the implant, and the best candidates are people with healthy gum tissues.
Dental implants are not suitable for everybody. Sometimes the implant fails to bond to the bone, and in this case they are usually replaced with a slightly larger implant to see if that will take. Certain chronic diseases, diabetes, bleeding disorders and people on certain medications may influence the success of the implant procedure. The risk of failure is also much higher for smokers. The best person to evaluate whether dental implants are suitable for you is your dentist.
For most people, dental implants are the best option to replace missing teeth. They are natural looking,and maintain the integrity of the jaw bone, but more importantly they are comfortable and function like real teeth to keep you eating and smiling properly.