A dental implant is a replacement for the natural root of a tooth. If you have lost teeth as the result of periodontal (gum) disease, an injury, or for some other reason, dental implants can be placed into your jaw as an anchor to hold the replacement tooth or teeth in place.
Dentures and bridges that are mounted to the stable foundation of an implant won’t slip or shift in your mouth, which makes speaking and eating much easier and more comfortable. They look, function, and feel just like your natural teeth.
In addition to providing a foundation for natural-looking replacement teeth, dental implants also help to preserve bone and stimulate bone growth. This is very important because the removal of a tooth or teeth leads to the deterioration and loss of bone in the jaw—about 25% of bone width in just the first year after tooth loss. Replacement teeth secured by implants can help avoid the pain and discomfort of bone loss and preserve the youthful appearance of your face.
Because they do not require the preparation of other teeth, as a tooth-supported bridged does, dental implants also help preserve the health of your surrounding teeth.
If you are an adult who is healthy enough to undergo a routine dental extraction or oral surgery, you are probably healthy enough to receive dental implants. It is best if you have healthy gums and sufficient bone to hold the implant, although new techniques in bone grafting can make it possible for even people with some bone loss to have implants placed. You must also make a commitment to taking very good care of your oral health and seeing your dentist regularly.
People with certain conditions are less likely to have success with dental implants. If you have uncontrolled diabetes, for example, there is a greater risk of the implants failing due to infection or poor healing. If you are a smoker, you also heal less well than a non-smoker, and it’s more likely that your implants may become loose. You can significantly increase your chances of successful implant treatment by quitting smoking.
Most dental implants are made using a titanium alloy that is lightweight and strong, and will not be rejected by the body. Titanium implants have been in use for more than 40 years.
The surgery to place dental implants is usually a two-step process. First, the tooth root implant—a small titanium post—is placed in the bone socket that once held the root of your missing tooth.
Over the course of the next six to 12 weeks, your jawbone will heal around the post and anchor it firmly in the jaw. When the healing process is complete, the oral surgeon will then attach a small connecting post to secure your custom-made new tooth, which the dental laboratory has molded and matched to your existing teeth, to the implant.
Most people report that having dental implants placed involves very little discomfort. The procedures are done under local anesthesia, and any minor discomfort after dental implant surgery can usually be managed using over-the-counter pain relievers. You may also have mild swelling, which can be minimized using cold packs or ice bags. During the first few days after implant surgery, it’s a good idea to stick with liquids and softer foods, and avoid extremely hot foods and foods like nuts and popcorn that can get lodged in the surgical areas.
You care for your implants just as you do your natural teeth: by brushing, flossing, and using an antibacterial rinse frequently, and seeing your dentist on a regular basis. You don’t need to use any special brushing or flossing techniques or tools when you have implants.
If you take good care of your implants, they could last many years. Many people have had implants in place for 40 years or more.
Dental implants are considered an elective procedure and most insurance plans do not cover them, although there are some exceptions. Talk with your dentist about options for a payment plan in order to make sure that you have access to the treatment that is right for you.