About Dental Implants
One of the most innovative dental treatments of the 21st century is the dental implant. Although we think of this as a thoroughly modern treatment, we’ve actually found evidence of dental implants as far back as 600 AD when the Mayan population would use shells to replace teeth.
Modern dental implants have come a long way since these early dental interventions for missing teeth. In this guide, we’re going to explore everything you need to know about dental implants so you can make an informed choice about your treatment.
What is a dental implant?
A dental implant is a small titanium screw that is placed in the jaw bone. The screw fuses with the bone to create a strong anchor for a dental restoration such as a crown or bridge. An abutment sits above the surface of the gum to allow the restoration to attach to the implant.
Once placed, the implant looks, feels and functions just like a real tooth. The implant replicates the role of the tooth root and allows the pressure of the bite to be absorbed by the jaw bone. With other restorations, such as a denture, the pressure of the bite is absorbed by the gums or the surrounding teeth.
This can feel very unnatural and might leave the individual reluctant to bite down properly. In turn, this will lead them to avoid certain foods and can have a wider impact on their health through poor nutritional choices.
With a dental implant, you can eat your favourite foods without worrying about pain or discomfort when you chew. It’s also a very natural-looking restoration and you can smile with confidence that your artificial tooth will not fall out, move, or look unnatural.
Why is this procedure done?
Dental implants are commonly used to replace missing teeth. A single dental implant can hold a dental crown to help close a gap in your smile. You could also choose multiple dental implants to hold a bridge or a full arch denture.
This treatment is known as All-On-4 dental implants, and it uses longer, angled implants to help support a full-arch restoration that can take load-bearing implants on the same day.
What are the risks?
The most common risk associated with dental implants is a condition known as periimplantitis. This occurs when an infection spreads to the dental implant and causes a loss of bone density around the implant. This leads to the implant coming loose.
The risk of periimplantitis is higher if the patient smokes after the treatment, or if there are poor oral hygiene habits. This can lead to gum disease, which can allow infection to spread to the implant.
Another factor that your dentist will need to consider before placing dental implants is the bone density at the implant site. The jaw bone can shrink and become thinner after a tooth extraction, and the longer the site is left empty, the worse the bone loss will be. If there is insufficient bone density, the patient may need a bone graft.
How do you prepare for dental implants?
To prepare for dental implant treatment, you need to ensure your teeth and gums are in good overall health. If there is any active gum disease, this will need to be addressed before the implant can be placed.
If you are currently a smoker, we recommend quitting and committing to not start again before you start treatment. Smoking and vaping will increase the risk of an infection at the implant site that could cause the implant to fail.
Before your dentist places the dental implants, they will need to carry out an extensive examination. This will include:
X-rays and CT scans of your mouth and jaw. This will help to determine if there is sufficient bone density and the optimal placement for the implant.
Medical history review. There are some conditions that will make you an unsuitable candidate for dental implants. We will review your medical history, including any medications you might be taking to determine if you are a suitable candidate.
What is the dental implant procedure like?
The dental implant procedure typically takes place over multiple visits. You will have the initial examinations before we create your bespoke treatment plan. This plan should be used as a guide only, as things can change throughout treatment.
During the first stage of the treatment plan, your dentist will drill a small hole in your jawbone to hold the titanium implant. You will be completely numb throughout the treatment and it should be no more uncomfortable than a tooth extraction.
The implant is placed in the pocket in your jaw and then the gum is stitched closed. This is left to heal and the implant will fuse with the bone. The healing process and time will be different for everyone. It could take 3-6 months for the healing process to be complete.
Once the implant is properly fused with your bone, your dentist will expose the top of the implant and attach a healing abutment. The gum is shaped and contoured around this abutment to create a natural finish. The abutment will be visible above the gum line.
Finally, the restoration is completed with a crown, bridge or denture. Your dentist will take the time to ensure the restoration fits comfortably. They will also run through the aftercare advice to ensure you know how to clean your teeth and protect your implant.
What to expect after implant treatment
Since the implant will be well-healed by the time the final restoration is placed, you can expect to be able to chew with confidence straight away. It might take some time to get used to the sensations, particularly if you have had missing teeth for a long time.
You will need to commit to regular checkups to monitor the health of the implant. It’s also a good idea to have regular hygienist cleanings to minimise the risk of developing gum disease. Your hygienist can also give you expert advice on how to care for your implant at home.