Dental implants are the best and most modern way of replacing missing teeth, and offer a far more permanent solution than dental bridges or dentures. Implants can be used to replace a single missing tooth, or multiple implants can be used to replace an entire upper or lower arch of teeth. The technology has been around for decades, and is tried and tested. The great thing about having a dental implant is that it replaces the natural tooth roots by using a titanium post that is inserted into the jawbone, and this provides a strong anchor for the replacement tooth. There are numerous advantages of choosing dental implants including:
- Improved appearance, as dental implants are the closest thing to having your natural tooth once again. They’ll give proper support to the lips and cheeks, and may even make you look more youthful
- Better speech, as implants are firmly fixed into place, and there is no concern that they’ll move around
- Better oral health, as implants don’t require the removal of healthy tooth structure to support a bridge or partial denture clasps, and they are relatively easy to clean around
- Denture wearers often have to avoid certain foods, but implants function in the same way as natural teeth so you can eat whatever you want
- Implants last a very long time, provided they are looked after properly, and can prove cost efficient in the long-run
- If you currently wear dentures then you’ll find your confidence and self-esteem improve with dental implants as you won’t have to worry about any embarrassing moments
These are great reasons for choosing to have dental implants, but one of the most important ways they can benefit oral health is through helping to preserve the jawbone. The roots of natural teeth are constantly being stimulated through the action of chewing and biting, and in turn this stimulates the surrounding bone, ensuring it maintains its mass and density.
When tooth roots are removed the bone no longer receives the stimulus, and it gradually reabsorbs. One problem faced by long-term denture wearers is that the ridge which supports the dentures gradually flattens off as it reabsorbs, making denture retention more difficult. Dental implants replicate natural tooth roots, so the jawbone is stimulated and preserved.
Is everyone a suitable candidate for dental implants?
Dental implants aren’t suitable for everyone, as you will need to be in good general health as well as oral health, and you do need to have good bone mass and density to support the implant. People suffering from chronic disorders such as heart disease, or who have a weakened immune system may be unsuitable for implants. If you are diabetic then you need to make sure your diabetes1 is well under control before having dental implants as otherwise it’s been shown to interfere with the healing process. Dental implants tend to have a higher failure rate in smokers2 as they don’t heal so easily after surgery. If you are a smoker and you are thinking about having implants then you need to give up for at least the duration of the surgery and the healing period, but preferably for good to help increase the longevity of the implants.
Your dentist will need to take x-rays, and you’ll probably need to have a CT scan as well, to check there is sufficient bone and for planning of the placement of the implant. If you don’t have sufficient bone mass, or it’s not of a suitable quality then the alternative is to have a bone graft. This is a straightforward procedure, but your need to allow several months for the graft to take and heal properly.
What is implant surgery like?
The actual procedure is relatively straightforward, and it only takes a short while to complete. The dentist will need to open up the gum to expose the bone, and will drill the bone so they can insert a titanium post. Once the surgery is completed, the titanium post will need time to integrate with the bone. The bone cells will actually begin to grow on the surface of the titanium post, providing a strong anchor for the final restoration.
After you’ve had implant surgery you may feel a little sore for a few days, but this is generally easily controlled by over-the-counter painkillers. It can depend on how many implants you have had placed. If you have just had a single implant then you’re likely to be able to go back to work within a day or so.
Once the area has fully healed then your dentist will be able to attach an abutment to the post. This is a smaller post which looks a little like a tiny peg, and the final restoration will be attached to the abutment. After this is done your dentist will be able to take an impression for the final restoration to be made at a dental laboratory. As soon as the dental laboratory has returned the finished restoration to your dentist, then it can be attached to the abutment. The technology and materials used to produce modern restorations create extremely lifelike teeth that look incredibly natural.
Implants have an incredibly high success rate3 of around 95%, but this does rely on it you looking after your implant correctly. You’ll need to make sure you brush and floss around the implant very carefully, and you should have regular dental checkups and cleanings to make sure your teeth and gums stay healthy.
- Balshi TJ, Wolfinger GJ. Dental implants in the diabetic patient: a retrospective study. Implant Dent. 1999; 8: 355-9
- Baig MR, Rajan M. Effects of Smoking on the outcome of implant treatment: A literature review. Indian J Dent Res. 2007; 18: 190-5
- Hamdan N, Lee J, Maciel N, Mokhtari M, Pagnani J, Wong B. The success rate of the single-unit implant: an evidence-based study of the literature.