Q: I’ve heard about dental implants, but I’m still not sure exactly what they are. Can you explain?
A: It’s no wonder you’ve heard of them: Dental implants have been called the most exciting advance in dentistry in the last 50 years! Essentially, the implant itself is a small, screw-shaped post that is placed in the jaw bone (underneath the gums), and serves as a replacement for the tooth’s roots. It is attached to a lifelike crown (a replacement for the visible part of the tooth) via a sturdy connector called an abutment. Dental implants offer results that can last a lifetime, and have the highest documented success rate of any tooth replacement system — over 95%.
Q: How does a dental implant work?
A: A few decades ago, it was discovered that titanium metal has a unique property: It can actually become fused to living bone tissue in a process called osseointegration. Implants are made of titanium, and take advantage of this feature. Solidly anchored in place by both osseointegration and mechanical forces, dental implants provide a strong and durable base for several different kinds of natural-looking and fully functional replacement teeth.
Q: What are dental implants used for?
A: One dental implant can be used to replace just one missing tooth with a crown that matches your own teeth. Two or more dental implants can be used to support a fixed bridge (a series of three or more replacement teeth) without requiring any work to be done on the adjacent, healthy teeth. Four or more implants can support an entire arch (complete top or bottom set) of replacement teeth that won’t slip and will never need to be removed — a great alternative to traditional removable dentures! Implants can also be used to support some kinds of removable dentures, and in certain orthodontic procedures.
Q: What is the procedure for getting a dental implant?
A: The implant process begins with a consultation, a thorough exam, and a set of diagnostic images. Placing one or more implants involves minor surgery, which is typically performed in the dental office and requires only local anesthesia. After the area has been numbed, a small opening is made in the tissue of gums and jaw bone, and the implant is carefully inserted. In some situations, a temporary replacement tooth may be placed on the implant immediately; otherwise, the implant will be allowed to rest for a period of weeks. In either case, the permanent replacement teeth will be secured to the implants at a subsequent visit.
Q: What are the advantages of an implant over other tooth replacement methods?
A: We already mentioned the high success rate and the long life of dental implants. Another advantage is the fact that implants stop the deterioration of bone in the jaw that inevitably follows tooth loss. Bone loss, a “hidden” consequence of tooth loss, is what tends to make people who are missing teeth look older than they really are. Implants need no special care beyond what you would give your natural teeth, and their longevity can make them a cost-effective investment in the long term. Plus, they look, function and “feel” just like your natural teeth.
If you’d like to find out more about dental implants, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants” and “The Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”