Even though the number of people keeping their teeth longer has increased significantly over the last few decades, it is still common for many people to be missing some or all of their teeth. This can lead to bone loss, esthetic problems, and difficulty chewing. Fortunately, great advances have been made in dentistry to improve treatment for missing teeth. One of the most significant advancements has been the improvement of dental implants.
Dental implants have actually been found in skeletons dating back to the Mayans over a thousand years ago where shells were shaped like teeth and implanted into the jaw. The 1960s saw the beginning of the development of modern dental implants. Today, a dental implant is a small post about the size of a tooth root that goes into the jawbone in order to replace a missing tooth. It is usually made out of titanium, but can also be made out of a porcelain called zirconia. Once the implant has healed into the bone, a second piece, called an abutment, is screwed into the implant. A crown is then attached to the abutment to finish the process. At this point, the implant feels and functions just like a natural tooth. Implants can also be used when multiple or all teeth are missing. They can be used to support either a bridge or dentures creating a better and stronger fit.
The process of placing an implant takes time though. Depending on the density of bone, once the implant is placed, it usually has to heal for anywhere from three to six months before the abutment and crown can be placed, but there is generally little to no pain or soreness during this time. Given appropriate healing time, the body generally accepts the implant well with a fantastic long-term prognosis as long as they are kept clean like a regular tooth. In fact, the long-term survival rate in most cases is over 95% which is better than many other dental procedures including crowns and bridges.
Most people will be good candidates for dental implants. A few of the possible exceptions are smokers, uncontrolled diabetics, or anyone with a history of bisphosphonate use. While not absolute contraindications, anyone with these conditions must be aware that they may decrease the success.
Overall, dental implants are a fantastic choice to replace missing teeth. They are strong, long lasting, and help to restore a beautiful smile. Most people are good candidates for them, and if you are missing teeth, I strongly suggest you talk to your dentist about the possibilities of implants.
Dr. Nick is with Palm Desert Smiles and can be reached at (760) 568.3602.