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.
What is a dental implant?
A dental implant is an artificial substitute/replacement for the root portion of your natural tooth. They are anchored into a pre-prepared site in your dental arch 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.
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 first be treated. The procedure is usually carried out under local anaesthesia and sedation is sometimes used if it is a long procedure or the patient is very anxious.
If there is insufficient bone material to accommodate the implant, a bone graft may be required, or the dentist may use smaller-sized mini implants if suitable.
How long is the healing process?
Once the implant has been placed, it is left to heal and integrate with the jawbone for approximately 6-12 weeks, depending on the individual medical situation.
During this "healing period", patients are given temporary teeth (bridges) or continue to wear dentures. This allows you to enjoy a natural looking smile early on in the process.
After the healing period, the gum is again lifted and a post is attached to the implant with a temporary crown. Four to six weeks later, when the surrounding gum tissue has matured, the final permanent restoration can be fitted to the implant.
What are the advantages of dental implants over dentures and bridges?
Reduced bone loss: If you loose a tooth, 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. Bone loss is a problem for people who have dentures as the shape of the jaw slowly changes.
Improved function: Dental implants 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. Dentures can be supported by implants or mini-implants, making eating far easier and eliminating the worry of bone loss or the dentures falling out.
Improved dental hygiene: Unlike bridges and dentures, which require special cleaning instructions and extra attention, dental implants require only regular brushing, flossing and dental hygiene appointments - just like your natural teeth.
No need to drill or remove any healthy tooth structure: When replacing missing teeth with dental bridges, the healthy tooth structure of the teeth adjacent to the gap have to be removed. 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.
Better aesthetics: A dental implant should be indistinguishable from your surrounding natural teeth. Dental implants provide a much better cosmetic and functional end result.
How many teeth can a dental implant support?
Traditionally, an implant placed into your bone supported a single crown. Today, one implant can support several missing teeth via a bridge or denture. The number of implants required depends on the volume and density of bone tissue available at each implant site. Often, smaller-sized "mini implants" are used to secure dentures in place.
Am I a suitable candidate for dental implants?
Dental implants can be placed in patients of any age (with fully developed jawbones), provided that they have a sufficient quantity and quality of bone tissue available. Most healthy individuals that maintain a good oral hygiene program are suitable candidates for dental implants. Circumstances where implants may not be suitable, or situations that have an increased risk of implant failure, include:
- Heavy smoking
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Periodontal gum disease
- Immuno-compromised individuals (steroids, auto-immune disease, patients undergoing radiation treatment).
- Teeth grinders (bruxism)
How will I know if I have enough bone for implants?
Using a combination of dental X-rays and a CT scan, your bone density and volume can be assessed, and information about nearby anatomical structures to avoid (such as nerves) can also be gathered.
How long do dental implants last?
Dental implants have been used for over 30 years to replace missing teeth. Mini implants can function as long-term supporting structures, lasting several decades, depending on how well 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.
Mini Implants and Denture Stabilisation
Mini implants consist of a miniature titanium implant and an 0-ring that is incorporated into the base of your denture. This makes your denture much more stable and stops it coming out at embarrassing times. It allows small movements of the denture but will not allow the denture to fall out unless you want to remove it. Mini implants are placed very gently, are comfortable, and allow you to chew all sorts of foods that you may not have had in years, such as steaks and maybe even chewing gum!
How can mini dental implants help denture wearers?
Mini dental implants are a painless procedure and require only a mild local anesthetic. Because of the unique, minimally invasive procedure, their small size and where they are placed, the typical mini dental implant patient can enjoy a light meal an hour or so after having the mini implants placed. Furthermore, a denture patient who has had his or her prosthesis stabilized with MDI can remove and replace the denture easily after a little practice, and can easily utilize good dental hygiene.
How much do mini implants cost?
The cost varies depending on the size and number and complexity of the case. Mini implants cost less than regular implants generally and are a very inexpensive way to secure a denture.
How can these tiny mini dental implants withstand the forces from chewing?
Mini implants are made from titanium alloy, which is extremely strong and grows well to human bone. If the bone is adequate to take the implants, they are very able to withstand chewing. Like everything in the body, there are cases of failure or fracture, but these are rare.