Healthy teeth offer much more than simply the ability to chew food. A healthy set of teeth offers lifelong benefits, including an attractive smile and resulting self-confidence. However, millions of Americans suffer from tooth loss, mostly due to tooth decay, gum disease or injury. In the past, the only treatment options available for people with missing teeth were bridges and dentures. Today, dental implants offer a reason to smile, providing a permanent, natural-looking option for missing teeth.
Natural and Permanent Options
By Jenni Frankenberg Veal
Dental implants have been one of the most important developments in the history of dentistry. In the 1950s, researchers found that titanium formed a strong bond with bone, a process called “osseointegration.” This led to the development of dental implants: small titanium posts, which are implanted into the upper or lower jaw bone to serve as substitutes for the roots of missing teeth. Dental implants then serve as anchors for replacement teeth, crowns or replacement teeth sets.
The effects of missing teeth can be detrimental to long-term oral and medical health. Having gaps where teeth are missing affects the way the jaw closes, causing remaining teeth to tilt and drift into the gaps and the potential for problems with the jaw joint. Food can also become trapped in open spaces, increasing the risk of gum disease and tooth decay.
Dental implants offer an effective solution for many of these problems and are an ideal option for people who have lost one or more teeth due to injury, disease or decay. Patients who are healthy enough to undergo routine dental extraction or oral surgery can be considered for a dental implant. Reasons to consider dental implants include:
• To replace one or more teeth.
• To provide support for a partial denture.
• To increase the support and stability of full upper or lower denture.
• To enhance chewing comfort.
• To increase confidence while smiling, talking and eating.
• To improve overall psychological health.
• To improve aesthetic appearance and regain confidence.
Once an individualized dental implant treatment plan is created for a patient, the first step in the process involves placing the dental implant into the bone socket of the missing tooth. Local anesthesia can be used during the procedure, and most patients report little pain.
As the jawbone heals, it grows around the titanium post, anchoring it securely in the jaw. This process can take from 6 to 12 weeks.
Once the implant is securely in place, a small connector post – called an abutment – is attached to the implant. Then a replacement tooth, called a crown, is attached to the abutment. Some patients may have attachments placed on the implant to retain and support a removable denture.
Because dental implants are secured within the jawbone, replacement teeth look, feel and function just like natural teeth. Although each case can vary, the total time for an implant dentistry procedure can be up to 18 months.
Dental implants are a safe and effective way to replace a single missing tooth or even entire rows of teeth. In general, dental implants have a success rate of up to 98 percent.