When it comes to missing teeth, there are a variety of restorative options to choose from. Traditionally, dentures (partial and complete) and bridges have served as the primary solution for missing teeth. But did you know that dental implants are considered by many to be the best treatment option for missing teeth?
What Exactly is a Dental Implant?
A dental or tooth implant is essentially a screw with a crown attached to it. The screw (made of titanium) and crown are connected via an abutment, which connects to the screw above the gum line. Dental implantation is a surgical procedure in which the implant screw is fitted in the jawbone in the same manner as a tooth root. The screw fuses with the jawbone in a process known as osseointegration, holding it in place and ensuring a strong, functional bite.
Why Implants Are a Preferred Treatment Option
Simply stated, dental implants are viewed by many dentists to be the most functional and aesthetic treatment option for missing teeth. Dental restorations typically have a shelf life of 10 to 15 years. Dental implants on the other hand may last a lifetime. It is not uncommon for patients to have implants for 30 or more years without issue.
Furthermore, dental implants have a high success rate; one of the highest in restorative dentistry. Implants placed in the upper jaw have a five-year success rate of 90%, while those placed in the lower jaw enjoy an even higher rate of 95%.
Let’s Consider the Alternatives…
Dentures can be loose fitting and uncomfortable. Additionally, they have a stigma attached to them that many find unpleasant (think the glass of water on grandma’s nightstand). Plus, dentures are a removable appliance, meaning heavier maintenance and greater chance of damage.
Fixed bridges are functional and aesthetic; however, they do not tend to last as long as implants, and are, believe it or not, more invasive. Fixed bridge placement requires anchoring of a crown to an adjacent tooth. In order to accomplish this, the adjacent tooth (perhaps perfectly healthy) must first be “shaped” to allow for the anchor. This shaping permanently alters to tooth.
Given these facts, if you have a missing tooth or teeth, your first consideration should be an implant.
Ideal Candidates: Sounds Right For You… But Are You Right For It?
If you have a missing tooth or teeth, you cannot simply choose to have a dental implant as your restoration of choice. Dental implant candidacy is determined based on a number of factors, including:
- Oral health – Do you have oral health issues that must first be treated before implantation can be considered? Gum disease, for example, will affect your candidacy.
- General health – Diabetes and cancer are two examples of health conditions that may prevent implantation.
- Age – Implantation may only be considered after adolescence once bone growth is complete.
- Bone/gum tissue – An insufficient level of bone and/or gum tissue may prevent implantation without some sort of graft.
- Smoking – If you are a smoker, you will be advised to quit long before treatment. Implant failure is considerable more common with smokers.
Beyond the aforementioned issues that may impact implant candidacy, your dentist may simply be at the mercy of a crowded smile. If your surrounding teeth are too close together, it may not be possible to fit an implant in the space. Such cases require alternative considerations.
Not a Candidate? Mini Implants to the Rescue
If your candidacy is affected by narrow spacing between teeth, hope may not be lost entirely. Mini dental implants are half the size of their traditional counterparts (and less expensive). Used for small teeth and incisors, mini dental implants may serve as a viable option for patients with narrow spacing.
Implant Placement: Risks and Recovery
Dental implantation is typically performed in a single session, however the process cannot be completed until osseointegration has occurred. This process could take anywhere from a couple months up to half a year. During this time, a temporary crown restoration is placed to protect the implant. Once osseointegration is completed, the procedure can be finalized with another single session, during which a fabricated porcelain crown is placed atop the abutment.
As with any surgical treatment, there are risks. The primary risk associated with dental implantation is implant failure. If osseointegration does not occur, the implant will fail, and alternatives will need consideration. Additionally, broken implants could lead to infection that requires further surgery. That said, implants are incredibly safe and very reliable.
The recovery period following implant surgery is case dependent, however patients can expect a two-month period of recovery following crown placement. It is imperative that diligent hygiene is practiced during this time (and at all time for that matter) to best aid recovery.
What’s the Cost?
Pinpointing an exact cost for dental implants is challenging given the many variables that determine cost. That said, there is a premium that comes with the best. Dental implants are not cheap. In fact, they are one of the most expensive treatment options in dentistry; especially in comparison with missing tooth alternatives like dentures and bridges.
The price of a single tooth implant may be as much as $7,000. However, as the adage goes, “you get what you pay for.” The cavity-resistant nature of dental implants means that patients may get a lifetime of use out of the restoration, whereas other dental restorations often wear after a number of years and require replacement.
If you think that dental implants may be the right option for you, set up a consultation with a dentist or periodontist to discuss treatment.
- Dental Implant Placement: Author: Jeff Burgess, DDS, MSD; Chief Editor: Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA
- FDA: Requirements for Dental Implants (n.d.)
- AAID: Type of Implants and Techniques (n.d.)
- JADA: Designing a Safety Checklist for Dental Implant Placement