The Next Best Thing To Natural Teeth
By Judy Latta
A strong, healthy smile can do wonders for your confidence and is critical to your overall health and well-being. Unhealthy and missing teeth can interfere with eating, smiling, and speaking and can lead to embarrassment and low self-esteem as well as more serious problems such as bone loss, erosion of gum tissue, jaw bone degeneration and eventual bite collapse.
Dental implants are a popular way to restore lost and unhealthy teeth with rooted prosthetic teeth that are custom-made to look, feel and function like natural teeth. The prosthesis is designed to match the color and shape of your natural teeth so that it blends seamlessly into your smile and bite.
The American Academy of Implant Dentistry reports that “the country-wide market in the U.S. alone is witnessing 500,000 new cases of dental implants per year.” The development of implant surgery is one of the most significant advances in dental medicine in the past several decades.
What is a dental implant?
According to the Academy of General Dentistry, a dental implant is an artificial tooth root surgically secured in the upper or lower jaw to support a dental prosthesis. It is made of titanium and/or other materials that are compatible with the human body. Implants provide a strong foundation so a missing tooth can be securely replaced with a synthetic tooth. Dental implants fill the space where tooth roots used to be and they function as a sturdy anchor for replacement teeth.
Why are implants preferable to traditional tooth replacement options?
Prior to the introduction of dental implants, the only remedies for replacing teeth were dentures or bridges. Dentures are custom made, removable appliances that are attached to the gums and roof of the mouth to fill a gap from lost teeth; while a bridge is a crown or series of crowns attached to the teeth on either side of a gap. These solutions have serious downsides that have been addressed with the advent of dental implant surgery.
Preservation of the jaw and gums
When you lose a tooth, the bone surrounding the gap where that tooth had been begins to collapse, causing the surrounding teeth to shift and lose stability, your gums to sink in, and eventually that part of your jawbone to deteriorate. These shifts can cause aesthetic problems, bite issues, jaw pain and, ultimately, additional tooth loss. Missing teeth can cause your jawline to sag and your mouth to appear sunken. Whereas traditional dental bridges and dentures fill the gap only above your gums, thus not addressing the problems developing at and below the gum line, dental implants fill the gaps left by natural teeth all the way down into the jaw, preserving the natural bone and gum tissue, stimulating bone growth, preventing the deterioration of your jaw bone, maintaining the natural shape of your face and smile, and preventing additional tooth loss.
Preservation of healthy teeth
A full set of dentures requires any remaining teeth in the mouth to be removed, leaving the patient with no natural teeth. Bridges require dentists to grind down the teeth adjacent to the missing tooth or teeth, damaging healthy teeth to replace those that are missing. Whereas bridges are attached to other teeth, implants are attached to the jawbone, with no trauma to the surrounding healthy teeth.
Dentures can shift when you eat, talk, cough, laugh or smile, requiring you to reposition them in your mouth. They can also loosen and make clicking noises as your mouth opens and closes. Both dentures and removable bridges can slip and fall out. Secure dental implants, on the other hand, are not at risk for movement because the implant base holds the replacement tooth securely in the gum in the same way tree roots secure trees to the ground and natural tooth roots secure teeth in your gums.
Comfort and ease
Dentures can cause discomfort as they can irritate gums and put added strain on the jaw joints and muscles. Additionally, articulation can be difficult when wearing dentures and removable bridges as the appliances change how your lips, tongue and jaw function. You need to relearn how to position your mouth to make particular sounds such as the “s” and “f” sounds. Most people can adapt and eventually begin speaking clearly, but the adjustment period can be very awkward as a denture or removable bridge wearer struggles to avoid mispronouncing words. Implants provide you with a natural biting, chewing and speaking experience because they function as natural teeth.
Traditional dental bridges and dentures typically last five to 10 years, but dental implants are a long-term solution. If properly cared for, they can last a lifetime. The life of a bridge or set of dentures can be extended with vigilant care, but at some point will probably need to be replaced.
Process for dental implantation
Per the American Dental Association, implantation treatment has three phases:
- The implanted root is surgically inserted into the jawbone. For a while you may need to treat the area with care by eating soft foods, and you may need to take a pain reliever to help with discomfort. Your dentist may give you a temporary crown, bridge or denture to help you eat and speak normally until it is time to install the permanent replacement.
- The bone around the implant heals in a process called osseointegration, whereby the bone actually grows around the implant to hold it in place.
- The artificial tooth, or crown, is attached to the implanted root or a bridge is attached to a series of implanted roots.
The American Dental Association encourages, “If you are self-conscious because you have missing teeth, wear dentures that are uncomfortable or don’t want to have good tooth structure removed to make a bridge, talk to your dentist to see if dental implants are an option for you.” You must be in good general health, and more specifically, have good oral health to be a candidate. Thus, the first step to getting dental implants is to have a thorough dental check-up and possibly an evaluation from your physician.