What is an implant?
Natural tooth compared with a dental implant crown.
A dental implant can be thought of as an artificial tooth root that is submerged into the jawbone. When dental work such as a crown, fixed bridge or a full set of dentures is added to the implant fixture, one or more missing teeth can be replaced. A dental implant is fabricated from a very strong, biocompatible material placed in a simple procedure that, generally, is as convenient as a tooth extraction.
After an initial healing period, during which the implant is buried in bone and left undisturbed under gum tissue, it is uncovered and connected to a small metal post that secures and supports the artificial tooth.
The implant material is extremely biocompatible. The bone grows to the implant and bonds to it. This makes the implant very strong. The process is called ‘osseointegration’.
How long does it take?
It depends on the type of bone, and where the implant is placed into your jaw. It can range from a few months to over 9 months.
Generally, implants in the front lower jaw need around 4 months; the back upper jaw needs around 9 months and elsewhere in the mouth around 6 months. These times may need to be lengthened if bone needs to be grown or grafting has taken place.
Is everyone suitable?
Some people may not be suitable for this procedure. Conditions such as alcoholism, some psychiatric disorders and uncontrolled diabetes can cause problems. We will also need to check to see how much bone you have and whether there is enough space for an implant. The adjacent teeth roots will also need to be away from the implant. If you don’t have enough bone, it is possible to grow bone or even graft bone from elsewhere in the mouth or places like your hip.
What are the advantages of implants?
The adjacent teeth are not damaged or cut in any way. It helps to prevent bone loss. Implants are also used to stabilise loose dentures or even replace them with fixed bridges.
Two implants are used to secure a 3-tooth bridge
What happens if an implant fails?
This means the implant has not attached or integrated to the bone. It usually fails at the second stage surgery. The failed implant is unscrewed, the bone left to heal for a while and a new implant placed. Other options such dentures or bridges are also available.
What is the procedure for an implant?
The gum is folded back and the bone drilled to receive the implant. You may have this done in the chair with local anaesthetic or go into the hospital for a general anaesthetic. The implant is generally covered over and left to heal until the implant is osseointegrated. We may also leave the implant uncovered by the gum at this first stage. A second operation may then be needed to uncover the top of the implant.
What is the success rate?
The success rate depends on where in the jaw the implants are placed. The lower jaw has a very good chance of success (98%). The further back in the mouth you go, the lesser the prognosis, but this is generally over 90%. If you smoke, the chances of success drop by at least 10%.
Why is implant treatment expensive?
Because it is a complex process requiring expensive precision components and instruments.
Why choose dental implants?
A dental implant is the closest thing to a natural tooth your dentist can give you. They feel much more natural and secure than traditional removable dentures, especially if these are loose fitting because of extensive bone loss. If several adjacent teeth are missing, a fixed bridge may be attached to dental implants as an alternative to a removable partial denture plate. Dental implants allow for the replacement of a missing tooth without modifying adjacent teeth. Your dentist will be happy to discuss alternatives for restoring your dental function with you.
Are implants complicated?
The simple answer is no, if sufficient bone is available to accept the implant. The procedures can all be done in the dental surgery, using only local anaesthesia. In the first stage of surgery, the implant root component is inserted into the bone site.
This surgery generally takes about sixty minutes to complete. After six to ten days, the stitches are removed and the buried implant is allowed to heal for about three to six months. During this time, bone grows into the implant surface to secure it.
The second stage of surgery is very simple and lasts only about thirty minutes. During this stage, the buried, secure implant is uncovered using a small incision in the gum tissue. A post is attached to the implant until the final prosthesis is complete, which can take as little as two weeks. There is minimal discomfort associated with either of these surgical steps, certainly no more than having a tooth extracted, and usually less. Dentist prescribed medication can alleviate any uneasiness. Improved aesthetics, function and quality of life follows in a few weeks with your new prosthesis fitted.
How long will an implant last?
This is impossible to predict. Though research has demonstrated a long life once the implants have been integrated with bone, each patient is different, and longevity may be affected by overall health, nutrition, oral hygiene and tobacco usage. Individual anatomy, the design and construction of the prosthesis and oral habits may also have an influence.
Are there any limitations?
Discuss this with your dentist, as there are a few medical reasons preventing the use of implants. Sufficient bone to accept the implant is the major limiting factor. This can be assessed radiographically (x-rays), and bone can even be augmented where it is deficient.
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