Answering Your Questions about Dental Implants

Read this guide to dental implants to find out everything you need to know about replacing lost teeth. Are long lasting dental implants the right choice for you?

Image from Janet McKnight on Flickr. 

If a person loses a tooth, for any reason, it is treated as quite a serious medical situation. The loss of teeth may not be a life threatening condition, but it can be very detrimental to health. Therefore, dental advice recommends a high quality replacement; teeth that are knocked out, disintegrate through decay, or wear away due to age must be repaired with an artificial bridge or implant.

This is not just for aesthetic reasons, though the appeal of dental implants does include aesthetic benefits. When teeth are missing, the health of the mouth suffers. There are gaps and breaks and the not all of the remaining teeth get the stimulation needed to grow strong. As the enamel crowns around a gap are no longer touching, they do not respond as efficiently to the hormone signals that drive their development.  

To give the natural teeth the best chance of growth and strength, dental implants and artificial teeth are used to plug the gaps and prevent oral tissues from sagging. If a patient is missing many teeth, a dentist is likely to recommend either dentures or extensive implant work. While dental implants are superior to dentures in many ways, the cost of dealing with multiple gaps in the mouth can climb quickly.

If you have discussed the suitability of dental implants with your specialist, it could be time to take a closer look at whether not they present a viable repair option for you. This guide to the benefits and downsides of choosing dental implants will help you get to grips with the basics.

What Is a Dental Implant?

Generally speaking, the dental implant is the most sophisticated form of artificial tooth. It usually costs more than a crown, bridge, or denture to design and fit, because it is fused with the actual jawbone of the patient. It is intended to be permanent, though there can never be any guarantees that further work will not be needed in the future.

The implant replaces the lost roots of teeth and, for each individual tooth that needs replacing, a neat little hole is made in the jawbone. The dental implants are then slotted into these holes and tightly secured. The primary aim of a dental implant procedure is to achieve a flawless join between the jawbone tissue and the outer surface of the implant.

Once this has happened, the dental implant is fused to the mouth and the patient should be able to use it as they would a natural tooth. The vast majority of commercial dental implants are now made out of titanium, as this is a material that the body is unlikely to reject. It fuses well with the bone tissue and functions as a stable foundation for the replacement teeth. Ordinarily, there is no limit to the amount of individual teeth that can be fixed with implants.

How Do Dental Implants Stay Secure in the Mouth?

It is important to understand that dental implants require a healthy mouth to be successful. So, if a dentist spots signs of disease or decay in other areas, these must be dealt with before an implant can be tried. As the implant has to be fused to the jawbone, any underlying conditions that put its health at risk need to be addressed and solved quickly.

So, if you do ask your dental specialist about the viability of implants, they will probably schedule an x-ray scan of your mouth as a first step. In some cases, a CT scan will be carried out to assess the strength of the bones in the mouth. It will determine whether or not they are sturdy enough to stand up to drilling. If the dentist decides that your jawbone is not strong enough, there are still a number of other options that can be considered.

As there is a lot of drilling involved in placing implants, the procedure can be very stressful for patients. While sedation is not always needed, it is often prescribed as a way to calm patients and help them sit still for what is, admittedly, a very extensive treatment. Your dentist will discuss all of this with you before any procedures are started, so you can raise any questions or concerns that you have. If you are worried about drilling or being under anesthetic, tell your specialist; it is their job to put your mind at ease, after all.

While a patient is under anesthetic, the relevant area of the gum tissue is cut and lifted away from the jawbone. Then, a small hole is drilled into the bone at the point where the implant will sit. The titanium structure is then slotted into this hole and the gum is carefully positioned back over the top. The gum tissue is stitched into place. Following implantation, it can take anywhere from six weeks to six months for the jawbone and the implant to fuse together.

One of the biggest benefits of dental implants is their flexibility. Yes, they are quite costly and complex to fit, but this is because they offer a very sophisticated solution to missing teeth. For most patients, this kind of repair work is a suitable, option, because even those with a lack of jawbone tissue can have the treatment adapted to suit their mouths. If a dentist determines that the jawbone tissue is insufficient, a bone graft may be carried out. Or, it is sometimes possible for smaller implants to be used.

Are Any Follow Up Procedures Needed?

As aforementioned, it can take quite a while for the mouth to fully accept the implant, but the rate of success is very high. You will be informed that the treatment has been successful once the jawbone tissue has fused with the outer surface of the implant. This must happen for all individual replacements, if you have had more than one implant fitted.

The thing to remember about dental implants is that they are complex and fiddly to fit. While the majority of the work is handled by the dentist – you can just sit back and let it happen – there are a number of follow up procedures and treatments required. Usually, patients are not able to start using their implants right away. They need to be protected from pressure and biting and chewing forces while they are still bonding to the jawbone.

For this reason, you are likely to be fitted with temporary bridges or dentures throughout the healing period. You may have to sit through several different treatments before your implants are completely ready for use. Once again, your dentist will discuss all of this with you during that initial consultation. You should not consider going ahead with implants until you have all of the necessary information, advice, and awareness of the risks.

Why Are Dental Implants a Superior Choice?

There are lots of different reasons why patients choose dental implants over dentures and other forms of bridgework. One of the most important involves the incidence and rate of bone degeneration. With an implant, it is possible to stimulate and encourage the continued growth of bone tissue in an area of the mouth that would otherwise start to deteriorate. Without contact with a structured material, the gum tissue degenerates; implants stop this from happening.

It is a very important benefit, because atrophy of the tissues can lead to facial sagging. Clearly, nobody wants any part of their face to sink, so a dentist may recommend implants as a long term solution. For older patients who have spent many years wearing dentures, dental implants represent a more costly choice (they are priced individually), but they can eliminate the need for refits and upgrades and help the jawbone to retain its natural shape.   

What Are the Other Benefits of Dental Implants?

As far as functionality goes, there are few repair options as successful as dental implants. Once healed, they can be used in the same way as natural teeth. There are no foods that need to be avoided and speech is not affected. With dentures, eating and speaking can be awkward at first. This is something that is completely avoided with implants, because they are not placed over the top of the gums; they are inserted into them.

However, some patients may require a combination of dentures and miniature implants. The use of both is generally recommended for people who are happy with dentures, but still have some problems eating and speaking. By fixing certain portions of the dentures to the jawbone, the chance of them falling out or coming loose is significantly reduced. This can boost confidence, improve quality of life, and help patients with lost teeth smile more broadly.

Plus, dental implants are permanent fixtures, so they need the same treatment as natural teeth. This means no special cleaning, removal, or disinfecting methods. To keep implants clean, all you have to do is brush and floss in the regular way. It is also important to keep up with regular dental appointments and check-ups. If you do not see your dentist, he or she cannot spot potential problems before they turn into dental crises.

And finally, you might prefer dental implants as a repair option because, while they do involve drilling, they do not affect the remaining healthy tooth enamel. Unlike dentures, crowns, and bridgework, implants can be fitted without removing any of the healthy teeth. This greatly lowers the chance of future complications, because dental implants do not have to rely on the healthy teeth for support. If these teeth do decay later on, it is unlikely to affect the implants.

Do Dental Implants Look Like Real Teeth?

If carried out to a high standard, there is no reason why dental implants cannot look indistinguishable from real teeth. This is why they are such a popular choice, even though they often come with a bigger price tag than dentures or bridgework. For patients with few remaining natural teeth, implants can provide a new lease of life.

They make chewing, speaking, and eating easier and give the mouth back its ordinary, healthy appearance. In many ways, this is something that it is difficult to put a price on. The question, has to be, is the cost and length of the procedure worth it to be able to have a mouth full of healthy teeth again? For most patients, the answer is a resounding yes. Whether or not implants are right for you will be down to personal preference and the advice of your dentist.

How Many Teeth Can Be Implanted Like This?

Technically, there is no limit to the amount of teeth that can be replaced with implants. If a dentist is skilled and believes that the length and complexity of the procedure is worthwhile for the patient, they may recommend a full implantation process (for ten or more teeth on the same row). This will not usually be done with individual implants, however.

To speed up the process and reconstruct a mouth of missing teeth, individual implants and bridgework implants will be fitted. There is no real way to know exactly what kind of procedure is required until your dentist has examined your whole mouth, so schedule an appointment if you are keen to discuss dental implants. Remember that the more implants you need, the more the treatment will cost.

Are Dental Implants the Right Choice For Me?

The rate of success for dental implants is quite high, as long as the jawbone is reasonably healthy and the procedure has been performed to a high standard. There are a number of situations that may make implants an unsuitable option. They include heavy smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, persistent periodontal disease (gum disease), immune system disorders, and bruxism (tooth grinding).

In some cases, these problems can be fixed. For example, a heavy smoker may be able to cut back or quit and then consider implants. It is entirely up to the judgement of a dentist. If the specialist believes that there is a high likelihood of failure, for any reason, they may consider implants an unsuitable choice. The procedure cannot be performed, on any patient, if there are signs of periodontal disease. This must be treated first or the implants will fail.

What Happens If My Jawbone is Not Sufficient?

In some circumstances, there is not enough jawbone tissue or the tissue is not strong enough for the implants to be placed. The dentist will either recommend that you try dentures or standard bridgework as an alternative or the possibility of a bone graft will be raised. This is an entirely separate procedure to the implantation. If you are not willing to undergo another treatment, you should not consider this option.

The standard bone graft usually consists of a minor surgical treatment. A piece of bone, from the jaw, hip, or tibia is surgically removed and fixed over the natural jawbone tissue. Over time, the new bone material will fuse with the old and give the jawbone more of a foundation for future implants. This is a standard procedure and the extraction area does not suffer for the temporarily reduced amount of bone tissue; it regenerated very quickly.

How Long Can I Expect Dental Implants to Last?

Unlike dentures – which need updating every five to seven years – dental implants can last a lifetime if a person takes very good care of them. The trick to this is to treat them as delicately as you would natural teeth and, honestly, this will become second nature anyway. You need to brush and floss regularly, eat a healthy diet, and attend dental check-ups when advised.

Your new implants are as vulnerable to trauma and gum disease as regular teeth, so it is vital that they are kept healthy as part of an ‘all round’ dental health regime. If you take good care of your implants, they will take good care of you. You can always consult with your dental specialist if you have concerns or you need any additional advice on how to look after them.

You should not experience problems with eating or speaking in the weeks and months following implantation, but do remember that you will not be able to use your new teeth right away. You will be relying on temporary bridges or dentures until the implants have been given a chance to fuse with jawbone and fasten securely to the mouth. Once this has happened, the temporary components will be removed and you will be able to start your new life with your shiny new teeth at the ready.

The cost of dental implants is a tricky thing to estimate without a full consultation, because the needs of every mouth are different. It will depend on how many teeth need replacing, how many individual implants will be required, and how extensive the procedure is likely to be. Generally speaking, the longer it takes a dentist to complete the procedure, the more expensive it will be for a patient. Pricing can also depend on the dental plan that you have.

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