Despite improvements in dental care, millions of people suffer tooth loss, mostly due to tooth decay, gingivitis (gum disease), or injury. For many years, the only treatment options available for people with missing teeth were bridges and dentures, but today, dental implants are available.
Dental implants are replacement tooth roots. Implants provide a strong foundation for fixed (permanent) or removable replacement teeth that are made to match your natural teeth.
There are many advantages to dental implants, including:
Success rates of dental implants vary, depending on where in the jaw the implants are placed but, in general, dental implants have a success rate of up to 98%. With proper care (see below), implants can last a lifetime.
In most cases, anyone healthy enough to undergo a routine dental extraction or oral surgery can be considered for a dental implant. Patients should have healthy gums and enough bone to hold the implant. They also must be committed to good oral hygiene and regular dental visits. Heavy smokers, people suffering from uncontrolled chronic disorders, such as diabetes or heart disease, or patients who have had radiotherapy to the head/neck area need to be evaluated on an individual basis. If you are considering implants, talk to your dentist to see if they are suitable for you.
The tooth root implant, which is a small post made of titanium, is placed into the bone socket of the missing tooth. As the jawbone heals, it grows around the implanted metal post, anchoring it securely in the jaw. The healing process can take from six to 12 weeks.
Once the implant has bonded to the jawbone, a small connector post, called an abutment, is attached to the post to securely hold the new tooth. To make your new tooth or teeth, your dentist makes impressions of your teeth, and creates a model of your bite (which captures all of your teeth, their type, and arrangement). Your new tooth or teeth are based on this model. A replacement tooth, called a crown, is then attached to the abutment.
Instead of one or more individual crowns, some patients may have attachments placed on the implant that retain and support a removable denture.
Your dentist also will match the colour of your new teeth to your natural teeth. Because the implant is secured within the jawbone, the replacement teeth look, feel, and function just like your own natural teeth.
Most people who have received dental implants say that there is very little discomfort involved in the procedure. Local anaesthetic can be used during the procedure, and most patients report that implants involve less pain than a tooth extraction.
After the dental implant, mild soreness can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications, such as paracetamol.
Dental implants require the same care as real teeth, including brushing, flossing and regular dental check-ups.
If you require a more extensive restoration than a crown or have more than one tooth that needs to be repaired, a good solution is a bridge. Bridges are usually made of a precious metal base which gives them a solid structure and makes them hard-wearing. If you need a bridge in your smile line, porcelain is usually added to the base to make it look more like real teeth. A bridge helps to strengthen the prepared teeth and makes chewing and eating easier because they are fixed and can’t come out.
Some bridges can also be fixed to your jaw with dental implants, if you have several teeth next to each other that are missing.
Once you have a bridge fitted, you will have to take extra care of your daily hygiene regime to ensure it stays plaque free and that you can prevent bad breath.
If you have a few or all of your teeth missing, one solution is to have a denture. A denture is made from hard-wearing material that mimics the look of teeth and gums to give you mouth a natural appearance. Your denture will be made to fit snugly on your gums and you will be able to remove it for cleaning.
When you wear a denture for the first time it may get some getting used to when speaking or eating and chewing. It is important that you take extra care in your hygiene regime so that you can avoid bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease. The hygienist will be able to show you how to best take care of your denture and gums and will tell you about specialised brushes you can use to do this.
If you have loose or ill-fitting dentures, your ability to eat and speak may become affected. Due to advances in dentistry, there is now a procedure whereby your denture can be fixed to your jaw with dental implants. This treatment, known as implant overdentures or denture stabilisation, offers patients with dentures a more permanent solution and can improve your quality of life significantly. You will be able to enjoy your favourite foods again and feel comfortable smiling, safe in the knowledge that your dentures are staying put.
As part of this treatment, you will require surgery to have the implants placed into your jaw. Once they have integrated with the bone and surrounding tissues for a period of time, your dentures are placed on top of the implants through a range of special fixtures. This means your dentures can still be removed for cleaning, but will stay put once in place.
Some of the other benefits that you will enjoy with this type of treatment are a natural looking smile, improved confidence, less irritation of your gums and you don’t take your teeth out at night.