People lose teeth all the time, either through trauma (when teeth are knocked out) or due to decay, gum disease or old age. Whatever the reason for losing your teeth, they need to be replaced, both for aesthetic and functional reasons. The most common treatments for missing teeth are either a denture or a fixed bridge. However, dental implants are now becoming a more popular treatment to replace missing teeth, as they provide a longer-term solution, slow down bone loss and preserve nearby healthy tooth tissue.
A dental implant is an artificial substitute/replacement for the root portion of your natural tooth and is anchored into a pre-drilled socket in your jaw-bone to support a crown, bridge or secure a denture firmly in place. Implants are made from titanium, a material that is well tolerated by bone and integrates easily with bone tissue. During the placement of a dental implant, the goal is to achieve a close contact between the outer surface of the implant and the surrounding bone tissue so they can “fuse” together (osseointegration), creating a stable support for the new teeth.
The advantages of implants over dentures and bridges are:
Normally, the bone tissue surrounding the root of your tooth is maintained by your body’s natural renewal process. However, if you loose a tooth, you will be left with a hole where your tooth root used to be and the bone around this area will slowly begin to disappear (atrophy) which may change the shape of your jaw. A dental implant placed in that area can actually stimulate bone growth and production, preventing loss of valuable bone structure. In some patients where bone loss is substantial, a bone graft may be required before placing a dental implant. Bone loss is a problem for people who have dentures, and as the shape of the jaw slowly changes, the dentures need to be adjusted or re-made to fit the new shape of the jaw. Bone loss can also make a person look older, since the area around the mouth can sag as bone is lost
Once dental implants are fully integrated into your jaw, they function just as well as your own natural teeth: you can eat the foods you want and speak with complete confidence. With dentures, eating hard foods such as an apple can be a problem: either the dentures come loose or patients cannot withstand the hard biting forces as they cause pain in the gums. Irritation and inflammation of the gums is a common problem amongst denture patients. Dentures can be supported by implants or mini-implants, which will greatly improve function, enabling patients to eat the foods they want with complete confidence and not having to worry about bone loss and loose dentures falling out.
Unlike bridges and dentures, which require special cleaning instructions and extra attention, dental implants just need regular brushing, flossing and dental hygiene appointments, just like your natural teeth.
When replacing missing teeth with dental bridges, the teeth adjacent to the gap need to be prepared and healthy tooth structure is removed to accommodate a crown or bridge abutment to fit over the top of the tooth. In the future, if one of the supporting teeth is damaged, the entire bridge restoration will also be compromised, whereas with an implant, the restoration is independent of any of your other teeth. By replacing lost teeth with an implant, no support is required of the adjacent teeth, and your natural teeth do not need to be prepared or altered in any way.
If done correctly, a dental implant should be indistinguishable from your surrounding natural teeth. Dentures can come loose and look unnatural if they do not blend with your gums, and some bridges and dentures have unsightly metal clasps to hold them in place. Dental implants provide a much better cosmetic and functional end result.