Dental implants are a long-term solution to replace missing teeth. Unlike bridges and dentures, which need to be replaced every 7-15 years on average, dental implants can last for the lifetime of the patient with regular dental care. In addition to providing a permanent solution to missing teeth, dental implants allow for fewer diet restrictions and avoidance of discomfort from ill-fitting dentures.
Your surgeon will work hand-in-hand with your referring dentist to come up with an individualized dental implant solution, whether you are missing a single tooth or require replacement of all your teeth.
What is a dental implant?
The word “implant” certainly gives you a clue to what your surgeon is speaking about when he talks to you about the possibility of permanently replacing missing teeth.
When you opt for a dental implant, your surgeon will literally “implant” an artificial tooth root into your mouth. A dental implant is a screw-like device that, when placed in your jawbone, will bond with your natural bone. Once that bonding has occurred, a connector (called an abutment) is placed on top of the implant, which will serve to hold in place the “crown” – or artificial tooth – that will be custom made to fit your mouth and match your existing teeth.
This procedure may be done for just one or a few teeth or for all of your teeth as an alternative to dentures. Many patients choose implants over dentures because they look and feel more natural and are certainly more comfortable.
Ancient dental implants can be traced all the way back to the Mayan Civilization around the year 600 A.D. Today, an estimated 3 million Americans have dental implants with that number growing by about a half-million annually, reports the American Academy of Implant Dentistry.
Dental implant surgery
If you have consulted with your dentist and determined that implants are your best option for replacing missing or failing teeth, he or she will refer you to an oral surgeon, who will complete the procedure. You will have likely had lengthy discussions with your dentist prior to this in order to determine that you are a viable candidate for implants. For implants to work for you, you should:
– Possess healthy oral tissues
– Have a jawbone that has reached its full growth
– Have adequate bone to secure the implants (or additional bone placement – “grafting’ may be required)
– Don’t smoke or chew tobacco
– Have the time to devote to the procedure (which spans several months overall)
– Are unable or unwilling to wear dentures
– Be in good overall physical condition
By the time you are ready for surgery, you will have had plenty of dental x-rays taken and models made of your teeth and jaws. Your dentist and surgeon will have reviewed your dental and medical history and treatment plan in order to make sure you have best possible chance for a perfect implant outcome.
About the procedure
Dental implant surgery is actually completed in steps, which is why it takes months from beginning to end. It requires patience and sometimes a little extra fortitude, but the end result is worth the time and discomfort. The procedure will be as follows:
– The damaged tooth or teeth are removed
– If bone grafting is required (when the jawbone is not wide or deep enough), this will be the next step. When major grafting is required, it generally takes 4-6 months for the transplanted bone to grow enough to support the implants, so waiting will be necessary. If only minor grafting is required, your oral surgeon may be able to perform the grafting surgery at the same time the implants are inserted.
– Next, the actual implants are placed in your mouth.
– After the implants are inserted, it will take about 4 months for osseointegration to begin. This is the process during which the implant unites with the jawbone. This process cannot be rushed as it is essential for you to have a solid base for your new teeth. The oral surgeon will generally attach the abutment to the dental implant during this same procedure, however occasionally, the abutment is placed a few months later during a separate procedure.
– Finally, when your implants are fully integrated into the jawbone, you will receive your artificial teeth (either fixed or removable) and your brand new smile!
As with any surgery, it’s typical to have some post-surgical swelling or pain after the various steps of the implant procedure. You might also experience some bleeding as well as bruising. If the pain seems extensive or the bleeding unusually heavy, it’s essential to contact your oral surgeon immediately.
After dental implant surgery
Dental implant surgery is generally very successful though there can be times when the bone doesn’t fuse correctly or completely with the implant. Smoking is one of the main causes of insufficient fusing, so don’t smoke if you’re undergoing implant surgery and its many steps.
Furthermore, although diabetes is not an outright contraindication to dental implant placement, patients with this condition stand the best chance for treatment success if their blood glucose is optimally managed. It’s also a good idea to avoid habits that can damage teeth, such as chewing on ice and hard candies.
Remember, it’s essential to schedule follow-ups with your surgeon as well as regular dental check-ups to ensure the health of your teeth and your implants which, when cared for properly, can last a lifetime.