Over time there are a number of factors that can contribute to tooth loss. Daily wear and tear, physical trauma, or disease and infection can all result in tooth decay. When someone loses a tooth or several teeth, this can bring about unwanted changes to their appearance, negatively effecting their confidence and self-esteem. In addition, it can lead to further oral health complications. With the advent of implant dentistry, however, those who are missing teeth no longer have to accept a lifetime of embarrassment of inconvenience.
Dental implants are strong, durable, titanium posts that are rooted in the jawbone to serve as anchors for replacement synthetic teeth. These dental restorations improve the look of the smile, provide structure for the face, and prevent further infection. Below is an overview of dental implants, for more detailed information we invite you to explore our implant dentistry section.
What are Dental Implants?
Implants are small, titanium screws that are surgically implanted in the jawbone to provide a base for the placement of synthetic teeth, such as dentures or dental bridges. They can be used to replace a single tooth, or all of the teeth. Dental implants are the most comprehensive and durable restorative dentistry treatment available for patients with missing teeth.
Visit the DocShop gallery to view dental implant before and after photos.
Photo credit: Smiles on Broadway Dental Care
The placement of dental implants and dental restorations is a two-step process. The first step involves the surgical implantation of the titanium screws. A skilled dentist will insert the posts into the jawbone, and close the area with stitches. Once this has healed, typically in about three to six months, the patient can return to have their replacement teeth permanently placed on the implant.
Step 1: Oral Surgery
The actual oral surgery for the procedure is the most invasive portion of the entire procedure. This is performed under general or local anesthesia, depending on the number of implants being placed and the scope of the surgery. Patients can receive this care on an outpatient basis. The average surgery takes about one hour, but this varies on a case by case basis. During surgery your doctor will:
- Make incisions in the gums where the implant(s) will be placed.
- Use a special drill to make holes in the jawbone to accommodate the dental implant
- Precisely place titanium rods into the created holes
- Close the gums with stitches
- Place temporary restorations, such as bridges or dentures over the implants, to last the duration of the healing process
Step 2: Recovery and Osseointegration
Recovery from surgery can take anywhere from three to six months, though it can take up to a year in some severe cases. During the time that the mouth is healing, a process known as osseointegration will take place. Osseointegration refers to the period of time when the titanium rod fuses together with the jawbone. Healthy bone actually begins to grow around the implant that is placed by your dentist. This creates a strong, durable root for the placement of a dental restoration.
Following post-operative instructions is imperative when it comes to dental implant surgery because this will ensure the success of the osseointegration process. In addition, this will ward off infection and speed up the healing process. If recovery is interfered with or if the titanium rods do not properly fuse to the jawbone, implant surgery may need to be repeated.
Some things that may hasten the recovery process include:
- Thorough oral hygiene habits
- A primarily soft food diet
- Avoiding pressure on the jawbone
- Avoiding teeth clenching and grinding, or gum chewing
It is recommended that you visit your dentist frequently during the healing process to be sure that no oral health complications are present. Once healing is complete, you can make an appointment for the third and final phase of dental implant surgery: implant restoration.
Synthetic teeth such as dental bridges or dentures are placed during the final phase of surgery, after the gums have healed from the initial procedure. During the healing process, your dentist will provide you with temporary restorations to preserve the appearance of your smile. Once osseointegration is complete, you can return to your dentist's office to complete treatment.
Step 3: Implant Restoration
When the bone has successfully grown around the dental implant following oral surgery, the dentist will add an artificial tooth, or dental restoration, to the post. The dentist will begin by making an incision in the gum to expose the implant post, and then twisting the abutment (a small metal "connector" that holds the dental restoration) into place. Depending on the patient's needs, the dentist may suggest different types of dental implants to use.
Types of Restorations
Dental implants can be used to replace a single missing tooth or multiple teeth. If the patient and doctor decide to restore teeth with dentures - or even bridges, in some cases - several implants may be required for support.
Single Tooth Replacement
To replace only one tooth, the dentist will use a crown. The crown will be custom-crafted to blend seamlessly with the other teeth, in both shape and color. Crowns are composed of ceramic, porcelain, or metal. Metal crowns are more durable than porcelain or ceramic, and are usually placed on back teeth, which endure greater pressure from chewing and biting, and are usually hidden from view. Porcelain or ceramic crowns look more natural than metal, and are usually placed on front teeth.
Implant Supported Bridges
If multiple teeth need to be replaced, the dentist may use a dental bridge that fits over several teeth. The implant-supported bridge is similar to a regular dental bridge, except that it is anchored to the implant instead of other teeth. The dental restoration will match the shade of the surrounding teeth so they blend in perfectly.
Implant Supported Dentures
In some cases, the dentist can attach a full set of dentures to the lower or upper jaw. Traditional dentures are crafted from either a durable plastic or porcelain. After the prosthesis is crafted and fitted for the mouth, the dentist will attach it to the abutment.
After the restorations have been placed, the entire procedure is complete. Patients are able to leave the dental office with a brand new, restored smile that they can feel confident about. These new teeth will look natural, feel comfortable, and allow for normal smiling, chewing, and speaking. The implant dentist will recommend regular appointments every few months to check the implant and perform a professional cleaning. This will ensure that the implants and dental restorations are long-lasting.
The titanium screws that are implanted into the jaw bone are designed to last a lifetime when they are cared for properly. In addition, while dental restorations may become worn or damaged over time, this can easily be fixed without invasive surgery.
One of the most important ways to avoid complications following implant dentistry is to closely follow your dentist's instructions for post-operative care. Being diligent about rinsing the mouth, brushing, and flossing is the only way to avoid implant failure. In the days after the dental implants procedure, your dentist will instruct you to:
- Take a prescribed antibiotic
- Rinse with medicated mouthwash
- Consume only soft foods
- Stay hydrated
- Limit physical activity to avoid bleeding
The Importance of Implant Care
For implant dentistry patients, oral hygiene becomes even more important than it was with natural teeth. This is because the gums and bone have been altered, and symptoms of infection become much more difficult to detect. In addition to adopting daily habits that will preserve their restorations, patients should receive dental X-rays every 6 months to detect signs of dental implant failure. Other instructions that patients should follow, include:
- Brush at least twice a day around the prosthetic teeth, gums, and abutments
- Floss frequently to prevent plague from building up, which can lead to gum tissue inflammation and decay.
- Visit the dentist regularly for check-ups, professional cleanings, and preventive care.
- Avoid certain foods, including extremely sticky or sugary foods.
- Avoid Smoking
- Avoid teeth grinding and clenching, or any other movement that may put too much pressure on the implant.
- Follow the instructions of their dental implant specialist.
How old a restoration is, the amount of pressure it is succumbed to, and overall oral health all affect how long a crown, bridge, or denture will last. Even with excellent oral care, there are some instances in which a restoration may become worn or damaged. Replacing the restoration is also an important part of preserving your oral health. Should a restoration crack or break, it can be easily replaced by a qualified dentist. Unlike the initial surgery, this does not require opening the gums, and is a non-invasive, pain-free procedure.
Can Dental Implants Fail?
When placed by a qualified dentist or oral surgeon, nearly 90 percent of dental implant procedures are successful. However, as with all other surgical procedures, there is a risk of failure. A lack of insufficient bone or infected tissue can cause complications with the procedure. Caring for your oral health after dental implants are placed will significantly increase the chances of success.
In addition to being the most comprehensive restorative dentistry treatment, implants are among the most costly as well, ranging from $2,000 to $4,000. The total cost of the procedure will vary based on the number of teeth being replaced, the type of restoration being used, the geographical location of the surgeon, and the experience of the surgeon. Fortunately, financing is available for people who require this procedure, and many dentists work with their patients to develop payment plans.
Benefits and Risks
Dental implants have cosmetic and functional benefits. In addition to restoring the appearance of the smile, implants provide strength for daily activities such as chewing and talking. They also improve the overall health of the mouth and prevent jaw disorders such as TMJD. However, the procedure does carry some risks, such as implant failure. It is important to undergo a thorough examination prior to receiving implants in order to determine if you are a viable candidate.
Although implant dentistry is an effective treatment, they may not be right for everyone. It is important to know that there are other options for restoring your smile after tooth loss. These options include full and partial dentures, and fixed dental bridges.
Find a Dentist Near You Through DocShop
DocShop presents the above information as an overview of this life-changing treatment. For more detailed information, we suggest that you use our online directory to contact a dentist experienced in implant dentistry. Let DocShop provide you with a list of implant dentistry professionals who are geographically convenient to you.