People lose teeth all the time, either through trauma (when teeth are knocked out) or due to decay, gum disease or old age. Whatever the reason for losing your teeth, they need to be replaced, both for aesthetic and functional reasons. The most common treatments for missing teeth are either a denture or a fixed bridge. However, dental implants are now becoming a more popular treatment to replace missing teeth, as they provide a longer-term solution, slow down bone loss and preserve nearby healthy tooth tissue.
What is a dental implant?
A dental implant is an artificial substitute/replacement for the root portion of your natural tooth and is anchored into a pre-drilled socket in your jaw-bone to support a crown, bridge or secure a denture firmly in place. Implants are made from titanium, a material that is well tolerated by bone and integrates easily with bone tissue. During the placement of a dental implant, the goal is to achieve a close contact between the outer surface of the implant and the surrounding bone tissue so they can “fuse” together, creating a stable support for the new teeth.
How is a dental implant placed?
Before any implants are placed, it is important for your dentist to assess the health of your teeth and gums. If there are any signs of gum disease or decay, these must first be treated.
- The gum where the implant is to be placed is cut and lifted and a small hole is drilled in the jawbone at the precise location of the intended implant. The titanium implant is tightly fitted into this socket and the gum is stitched back over the implant. If there is insufficient bone material to accommodate the implant, a bone graft may be required, or the dentist may use smaller-sized mini implants if suitable.
- Once the implant has been placed, it is left to heal and integrate with the jawbone for between six weeks to six months. The bone tissue will grow and anchor itself into the microscopic rough surface of the implant.
- During this “healing period”, patients are given temporary teeth (bridges) or continue to wear dentures. It is important that temporary teeth do not exert any force on the healing implant. After the healing period, the gum is again lifted and a post is attached to the implant with a temporary crown. Four to six weeks later, when the surrounding gum tissue has matured, the final permanent restoration can be fitted to the implant.
What are the advantages of dental implants over dentures and bridges?
- Reduced bone loss
- Improved function
- Improved dental hygiene
- No need to drill or remove any healthy tooth structure
- Better aesthetics
Am I a suitable for dental implants?
Dental implants can be placed in patients of any age (with fully developed jawbones), provided that they have a sufficient quantity and quality of bone tissue available. Most healthy individuals that maintain a good oral hygiene program are suitable candidates for dental implants.
How long do dental implants last?
Dental implants have been used for over 30 years to replace missing teeth and they can last a lifetime depending on how well you look after them. Like any other restoration, your implant-supported teeth can still be damaged by trauma and affected by gum disease and poor oral hygiene.