By now, most people have heard of dental implants and how they’re used to either restore or create that perfect smile and confidence that comes with it.
Since tooth loss is so common and dentures can cause discomfort and pain, in recent years dental implants have gained a lot of popularity leading to impressive technological advances in implantology. The industry has focused on increasing durability and reducing treatment time, resulting in new implants that can be placed right after extraction as opposed to waiting up to 6 months.
If you’re reading this guide, you’re either thinking of getting dental implants yourself or you’re simply interested in learning more on the subject. We will try to give you all the essential information so that, by the end, you will know what dental implants are, how they work and what to expect from the procedure.
What Are Dental Implants?
A dental implant is a post similar to a tooth root that is surgically inserted into the jawbone, under the gum line. Your dentist can then use it to mount a bridge or replacement teeth and unlike dentures, it doesn’t come loose. It’s the next best thing to actual teeth.
After healing, a connector called an abutment is positioned on top of the dental implant and serves to support the crown – the artificial tooth.
The crown is typically made from porcelain fused to metal (PFM), layered zirconia, full-contour zirconia or lithium disilicate. Patients choose according to strength of the material and aesthetic appeal, you can ask your dentist about the different options and read reviews online.
Implant Supported Bridge
Dental implants can also be used as anchor points for fixed dentures or bridges. This is done similarly to conventional bridges supported by natural teeth. The implant supported bridge will be attached to the abutments (same as single tooth implants) and can replace an entire arch of teeth (fixed full denture).
Titanium is the most widely used material for dental implants because of its biocompatibility which aids in terms of osseointegration – the biological process in which the implant bonds tightly to the bone, increasing durability.
This is why a healing period is required before the crown is attached, so that placing load on the replacement tooth doesn’t interfere with the process of osseointegration.
In recent years, other materials such as zirconium have become more widespread because of the aesthetic advantages. With zirconium there’s less concern over matching the color of the teeth while also hiding the dark color of the titanium underneath.
Dental implants are designed to offer equal or better performance to real teeth in terms of chewing and to last as close to a lifetime as possible so, regardless of material, in order to be approved they go through a series of tests meant to ensure safety and mechanical reliability.
If you do your research and choose a reputable dental implant dentist, the procedure is one of the safest and most predictable in dentistry.
The implants used now have been developed and used successfully for more than 30 years and they’re the best devices capable of restoring the look, feel and function of natural teeth.
There are very few medical conditions which would disqualify a patient from the option of getting dental implants but there are some that can result in reduced durability. Diabetes, smoking and poor oral hygiene predispose people to gum disease which will affect the implant (peri-implantitis). Diseases that affect the health of the bones such as osteoporosis will also have a negative impact on stability and durability.
If you’re considering getting cosmetic dental implants, you’ll go through an examination to make sure you have healthy gums and adequate bone tissue which can support the implant. If the bone is found to be too thin or too soft you might require a bone graft.
When the tooth is extracted with the specific purpose of replacing it with an implant, the area will be prepared so that the bone tissue doesn’t recede. In cases where the tooth has been missing for a long time, it’s common for there to be some degree of bone reabsorption or deterioration which is unsuitable for anchoring the implant.
Bone tissue harvested from another area or bone substitute is inserted into the jaw and covered with a semi-permeable membrane. It will take several months to heal but in this time the bone tissue will regenerate, forming a stable base for your implant.
Likewise, if your bone tissue does not provide enough height in the region of the upper jaw close to the sinuses, you might have to get a sinus lift.
A sinus lift or a maxillary sinus floor augmentation is a surgical procedure meant to lft the sinus membrane (the lower Schneiderian membrane) and it’s also done using a bone graft.
During the examination, dentists use CT scans to identify vital structures and to determine options through computerized planning of the implant.
You’ll also receive questions regarding your medical history as your dentist needs to have a through understanding of your general health, previous surgery, allergies and medications you’re taking.
Recovery time will depend on the complexity of your procedure, if you needed a sinus lift or bone grafting. For the first few days after surgery you will experience some swelling and bruising just like you would with any other surgical intervention.
You might get antibiotics as a preventive measure and you’ll take some anti-inflammatory medication to help with the swelling and pain.
You’ll need to watch what you eat. For the first two weeks you’ll need to eat very soft food because your gums will still be very sensitive. Afterwards, you’ll also be instructed to avoid hard, crunchy food so you don’t disturb the osseointegration process. These measures are meant to increase the stability and durability of your new implants.
Oral Care for Implants
Implants, just like natural teeth, also need regular check-ups and professional plaque removal treatments. You should brush your teeth regularly, use dental floss and/or an oral irrigator to make sure you clean properly around the implants and prevent gum disease.