When a tooth is lost (either from injury or disease) it can cause bone loss, poor speech, or difficulty and discomfort when eating. Replacing the missing tooth with a permanent dental implant can have huge benefits for quality of life and health.
What are Dental Implants?
Dental implants replace the tooth roots, anchoring replacement teeth into the jawbone. They provide a strong foundation for either fixed or removable replacement teeth, which are made to match your natural teeth.
What are the Advantages of Dental Implants?
Dental implants have many advantages over other forms of dental reconstruction, including:
- Improved appearance – dental implants look and feel like your natural teeth, and because they fuse with your jawbone they become permanent.
- Improved speech – standard dentures can slip in your mouth, causing you to mumble or slur your words. Dental implants won’t move, so you can speak clearly without worrying about slippage.
- Improved comfort – dental implants will become a part of you, making them more comfortable than removable dentures.
- Easier eating – As with speech, sliding dentures can make eating difficult. Dental implants function like your own teeth, so you can enjoy eating all your favourite foods without worrying about pain or discomfort. Steak, anyone?
- Improved self-esteem – Dental implants can give you your smile back, and improve the structure and tone of your face. With dental implants, you can feel better about your appearance.
- Improved oral health – Unlike other forms of dental reconstruction or tooth replacement, such as a tooth-supporting bridge, dental implants don’t require reducing other teeth. This leaves more of your natural teeth intact, which improves overall oral health. Implants also allow greater access between teeth, making flossing and maintaining oral hygiene easier.
- Durability – implants can last for many years. In fact, with proper care, they can even last a lifetime.
- Convenience – with implants, there’s no need to take anything in or out on a daily basis or to use messy adhesives, as with dentures. Once implanted and healed, dental implants will feel so much like your natural teeth you may even forget that they’re there!
How Successful are Dental Implants?
The success of dental implants varies based on factors including where in the jaw they are placed, but on average they have a success rate of around 98%. When properly cared for, they can last a lifetime – just like natural teeth!
Can Anyone Get Dental Implants?
Generally, anyone in good enough health to undergo routine dental surgery may be a good candidate for dental implants. Patients must have healthy gums and enough bone to hold the implant. Patients should also be prepared to commit to good oral hygiene and regular dentist visits.
Heavy smokers, people with unmanaged long-term health conditions such as heart disease, or patients who have had radiation therapy to the head or neck should be evaluated on an individual basis.
If you want to know more about your individual suitability, talk to your dentist to find out if you’re a good candidate for dental implants.
Am I a Good Candidate for Dental Implants?
There are some simple ways to decide if a patient is a good candidate for dental implants. These relate to the patient’s bone strength, age, and current health.
When a tooth is missing, it causes the surrounding bone to deteriorate. Without strong bone, an implant cannot be placed, so if a patient has lost too much bone density then an implant will not take correctly.
To get a picture of a patient’s bone density, a CBCT Scanner can take 3D images of the mouth and jaw to analyse the existing bone density. If there isn’t enough bone to proceed, a bone graft may be recommended.
Dental implants work best in adults who have finished their physical growth and development. If a patient is too young, they will need to wait for the facial structure to finish developing. This usually happens at 16 for girls and 18 for boys.
Conditions such as gum disease, diabetes, or heavy smoking may make dental implants non-viable or inadvisable. If this is the case, your physician and dental team will work with you to see if there is a possible solution.
Does Insurance Cover the Cost of Dental Implants?
In general, dental implants are not covered by most dental insurance plans at this time. Coverage may be possible under your medical insurance depending on the specific insurance plan and/or the reason for tooth loss. For more detailed information, consult with your insurance company and your dentist.
What Is Involved in Getting a Dental Implant
Once you have decided to get dental implants, there are steps that must be undertaken before you can begin the process. These steps include:
- Comprehensive Dental Exam. This could involve dental X-rays, 3D imaging, and modelling of your teeth and jaw.
- Medical History Review. Make sure you’re honest and thorough about your medical history. Any chronic conditions, medications, prescriptions, or supplements should be disclosed as they may have an impact on the success of your dental implants. For some heart conditions or orthopedic implants, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics before surgery to prevent infection.
- Preparing a Detailed Treatment Plan. The best treatment plan for your dental implant is tailored to your individual dental implant needs. The specialist will consider the number of teeth, gum and jawbone health condition, and the state of surrounding teeth. A comprehensive treatment plan also covers sedation and local anaesthesia. The dentist will also discuss an eating plan before and after the dental implant procedure.
Why It’s Done
Dental implants are a form of dental reconstruction that provide a long-term alternative to dentures or removable bridgework.
Because the implants are made of titanium they won’t decay like your own natural tooth roots, which are made of organic materials. They are therefore better designed to support artificial teeth than systems that maintain and build on existing tooth structures.
You might be a good candidate for dental implants if you:
- Have one or more missing teeth
- Have a fully developed jawbone
- Have adequate existing bone for the graft, or are a candidate for a bone graft
- Have healthy oral tissues
- Are free of health conditions that may hinder bone healing
- Can’t or don’t want to wear dentures
- Want better speech ability
- Don’t smoke
- Are willing and able to commit several months to the process
Who Performs Dental Implant Surgery?
The first step in the process of getting dental implants is to develop an individual treatment plan. Each person’s situation is different, so an individual plan will address your specific needs. This plan is prepared by a team of specialists in oral surgery and restorative dental care who are familiar with your situation.
This team may include an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, a periodontist, a prosthodontist, and occasionally an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT). A team approach will provide coordinated care that promises the best possible care outcomes for you.
Benefits, Risks, and Safety Concerns
Every surgery comes with risks and concerns. It is important to talk to your care team to discuss whether or not you feel the benefits of dental implant surgery outweigh the (usually very minor) risks or safety concerns.
Benefits of Dental Implant Systems
- Restores ability to chew
- Improved cosmetic appearance
- Reduces bone loss and jaw shrinkage
- Preserves health of surrounding bone and gums
- Helps keep nearby teeth stable
- Improves quality of life
Risks Associated with Dental Implant Systems
While complications are rare, dental implantation is a surgical procedure and any surgery involves risks. Usually, these risks are minor and easily treated. They include:
- Infection at the implant site
- Injury or damage to surrounding teeth, blood vessels, or other oral structures
- Nerve damage
- Sinus issues, if dental plants in the upper jaw impede the sinus cavity
- Inadequate function, such as if the false teeth don’t bite together comfortably
- ‘Loose’ teeth from abutment screws loosening
- Implant body failure results in the loosening of the implant itself. This is often a result of infection or delayed healing due to pre-existing health issues or habits such as smoking.
- Difficulty cleaning gums, which can lead to poor oral hygiene
- Dental implants can interfere with MRI or x-ray procedures, so make sure you inform your treatment providers of your implants if you require any magnetic imaging.
Ways Dental Implants are Evaluated for Safety
Dental implant systems are made of materials that have been approved and evaluated by international bodies, including the International Organization for Standardization (IOS).
Most implants are made of titanium, although materials such as zirconium oxide, gold, titanium, or cobalt-based alloys, or ceramic are sometimes used. These are proven to be safe, and any potential risks are well known.
Dental implants must pass national and international testing to prove that they are safe and effective and that they are made of biocompatible materials that will not cause allergic reactions or irritation.
While most dental implantation procedures are successful, there is always a risk that the bone will fail to fuse. If this happens, the implant will be removed and you can try again in about three months.
There are some ways that you can make it more likely that your dental implants will take and will last for many years. Some actions you can take include:
- Practising oral hygiene. Floss and brush regularly with an interdental brush to keep your teeth – natural and implants – clean and healthy.
- See your dentist regularly. It’s important that you schedule regular dental checkups to maintain and monitor the health of your natural teeth and your implants.
- Avoid bad habits. Don’t chew ice, hard candy, or other items that may cause impact damage to your teeth. Avoid smoking tobacco or drinking coffee. If you grind your teeth, ask your dentist about possible solutions, such as a night-time mouthguard.