What is a dental implant?

What is a dental implant?

A dental implant is an artificial tooth root, or titanium fitting, that is surgically secured to the jawbone. The light and durable metal implant acts as an anchor for a false tooth or set of false teeth. Since the implant fuses to the bone, the attached crown is matched to the exact color of your natural teeth, looks and feels completely normal and natural. They can last a lifetime depending upon how you look after them. Like any other restoration your implant-supported teeth can still be damaged by trauma and affected by gum disease and poor oral hygiene.

An implant can naturally replace missing teeth, can support a single or full bridge, can eliminate the need for a partial removable denture, can help prevent bone loss and gum recession and makes it easier to chew, eat, talk and smile! A dental implant also fuses to living bone for that real tooth feel, makes dentures more comfortable and secure, eliminates messy denture glues and pastes, eliminates wrinkles on your face giving you a younger appearance, requires no adhesives, removals, soaking or cleaning and provides a reliable, long-term dental solution that can last a lifetime!

The Procedure

Before any implants are placed it is important for your dentist to assess the health of your teeth and gums, if there are any signs of gum disease or decay these must be treated first. Following this your treatment will be planned following several x-rays and a CT scan in some cases to assess that bone quality and check for nearby anatomical structures to avoid before any drilling. The procedure is usually carried out under local anesthesia.

The gum where the implant is to be placed is cut and lifted and a small hole is drilled in the jawbone at the precise location of the intended implant. The titanium implant is tightly fitted into this socket and the gum is stitched back over the implant. If there is insufficient bone material to accommodate the implant a bone graft may be required.

Once the implant has been placed it is left to heal and integrate with the jawbone for between 6 weeks to 6 months. The bone tissue will grow and anchor itself into the microscopic rough surface of the implant.

During this “healing period” patients are given temporary teeth (bridges) or continue to wear dentures. It is important that any temporary teeth do not exert any forces on the healing implant. After the healing period the gum is lifted again and a post is attached to the implant with a temporary crown. A week later when the surrounding gum tissue has matured the final permanent restoration can be fitted to the implant.

Risk of implant failure includes:

Heavy smoking, which this slows down and hinders the healing process. Excessive alcohol intake, which disrupts healing of the gums. Periodontal gum disease, all active gum disease must be treated prior to any implant procedure to ensure long term success of any treatment. Periodontal disease is a major cause of bone loss, which would hinder the success of any implant procedure. Immuno-compromised individuals (steroids, auto-immune disease, patients undergoing radiation treatment). Teeth grinders (bruxism) – a night time splint can be given to treat this.

The discomfort experienced after the placement of implants is generally equivalent to that experienced from the extraction of a tooth. Most implants are placed using local anesthetic only. Sedation can be used with the more apprehensive patients and occasionally, if extensive surgery is required, a general anesthetic may be recommended.

The entire process typically involves 2 or 3 trips to the dentist over a 4 to 6 month period. In most cases, you can resume normal activities the day following the placement of your implants.

Along with normal brushing and flossing, a periodic check-up with your dentist is required. They will check the individual implants and clean around the posts if necessary. Dental implants do not suffer from normal teeth problems such as decay and hot/cold sensitivity.