Are Dental Implants Right for You?
Are you missing one or more teeth? Are you worried that dentures won’t look natural or provide you with the solid, secure bite you need to eat the foods you love? Dental implants may be the answer you’ve been looking for. For many people, they’re the best way to replace one or more lost teeth and save your smile.
In today’s post, we’ll talk about what dental implants are, the implant process, and how you can learn more about whether dental implants are right for you.
Let’s get started!
Tooth Loss is Bone Loss!
The primary purpose for much of the bone in our upper and lower jaws is to support our teeth. So, when you lose a tooth (whether it’s due to advanced infection or an injury), the bone supporting that tooth no longer has a purpose, and as a result it slowly begins to disintegrate. Many people who lose a tooth don’t realize the effect this can have on the bone structure. Unfortunately, this bone loss is permanent, so if you lose a tooth, it’s important to replace the missing tooth as soon as possible to prevent bone loss.
Bone loss not only has the potential to cause structural problems and complications for the surrounding teeth, but it can also cause problems with the way your teeth (and your smile) look.
While bone loss can’t be completely reversed, advancements in dental implant technology can stop bone loss and improve the bone structure beneath missing teeth.
Dental Implants to the Rescue
So how do you prevent the bone loss associated with tooth loss? A dental implant! If you have one or more missing teeth, you might be a good candidate for a dental implant. Implants are really versatile - one implant can replace a single tooth, and several implants can replace multiple missing teeth in a row, or can help to support and provide retention for a denture. These days, as few as four implants can provide the support to replace all of an individual’s upper or lower teeth, in some cases.
Because dental implants are supported by the same bone that supports our teeth, a dental implant gives the bone (that would be lost) a purpose again, and will typically prevent or limit bone loss.
The even better news is that dental implants are likely still an option even if you’ve experienced some bone loss due to missing teeth. If this is the case, however, you’ll likely need a bone graft before the implant can be placed.
How Bone Grafts Work
When the bone structure in your jawbone is compromised, or you’ve experienced bone loss, a bone graft is a great way to restore some of that lost bone and create a solid foundation for future dental work, like dental implants.
When performing a bone graft, an oral surgeon will use a bit of bone or a synthetic bone replacement to build up this foundation. Once the bone graft has been completed, it will need to heal and grow for several months before any additional dental work can be done.
While bone grafting technology has come a long way in recent years, there are still risks associated with procedure, most commonly infection or rejection of the graft. Your dentist and surgeon can help you understand and minimize these risks.
What is a Dental Implant?
It’s important to understand that what we normally call a “dental implant” is actually a combination of 3 things:
The implant itself
A prosthetic, like a crown or dental bridge
The Dental Implant
The actual dental implant is essentially a small titanium screw, which is surgically placed into your jawbone (or into a healed bone graft) and acts as a tooth root, to support the replacement tooth / crown, bridge, or denture that fits on top. This part is below the gumline in the bone, so we never really see the actual implant itself once it is placed.
An abutment is a connection between the implant and whatever rests on top. Because implants are so versatile, abutments come in many shapes and sizes, depending on whether the implant will replace a single tooth, multiple teeth, or will act as a “snap” for a denture to latch onto.
From a natural-looking crown, to a bridge replacing multiple teeth, to a denture, there are lots of prosthetic options for dental implants to support, depending on your situation and how many missing teeth you have. The goal is always to create a natural look and feel, whether replacing one or multiple teeth.
The Dental Implant Process
Placing the Implant & Abutment
Implant placement is a surgical procedure. After any needed bone graft has healed, the implant itself will be placed into the bone in the area of the missing tooth. During the implant healing process (usually between 3 and 6 months), bone actually grows into and around the threads of the implant, making it very secure and stable.
Attaching the Prosthetic
Once the implant is deemed healed and stable by the surgeon, an impression of the implant and the mouth is made for fabrication of the abutment and prosthesis. Your dentist and dental lab technician will work together craft a crown or bridge that matches the color and shape of your teeth, and will function in harmony with the rest of your teeth. Or, a denture can be created that will be held in place with a “snap” with the support of implants, with the benefit of very little or no movement during eating and speaking.
How to Care for Dental Implants
Because your dental implant is fused with your own natural bone structure, it’s important to keep the surrounding gum tissue healthy by brushing flossing to prevent infection and unhealthy built-up plaque.
I’ve written about gum disease before and it’s especially important to take good care of your gums when you have a dental implant. Otherwise, you run the risk of peri-implantitis - an infection and inflammation of gum tissue around an implant. Besides regular brushing, one of the best things you can do to avoid peri-implantitis is to avoid tobacco products, like cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Doing so can significantly reduce your risk of gum disease near your implant.
It’s also important to keep seeing your dentist for regular cleanings and exams. Dentists use specialized tools to keep implants clean-- ones you can’t use at home yourself!
The best part about implants is that with proper care they can last for decades! And if anything happens to your crown or bridge, it’s easy to replace without making any changes to the implant itself.
Want to Learn More About Dental Implants?
I’d love to answer your questions about dental implants and help you understand if they’re the right choice for you. Just call (540) 432-9992 or contact me online to schedule an appointment.
You deserve a smile you love and dental implants can help!