What Are Dental Implants?
A dental implant is an artificial tooth, including the tooth roots. An implant is anchored in the jawbone below the gum line, providing a strong foundation for the replacement tooth. Implants have the look and feel of natural teeth, allowing patients to regain confidence in their smile.
Artificial teeth for dental implants can be permanent or removable, and implants can support crowns, bridges, or dentures. Your dentist can discuss which type of implant is right for you.
How are Dental Implants Inserted?
Dental implant surgery is usually performed in stages, with healing time between procedures. The surgical dentistry required for an implant may be performed by your dentist or an oral surgeon.
The process of placing a dental implant includes:
- Developing a treatment plan. To determine if you’re a good candidate for dental implants, your dentist will take into account factors such as how many teeth you need to be replaced and the condition of your jawbone and remaining teeth. Upon completion of an examination, your dentist will explain which type of treatment plan is the best option for you.
- Damaged tooth removal. To prepare the site for the implant.
- Jawbone preparation (grafting), when needed. A prosthetic tooth requires adequate jawbone in which to anchor. If your jawbone is too thin or soft, a bone graft will be required. Options include a natural bone graft from another location in your body or a synthetic bone graft, such as bone-substitute material that can provide support structures for new bone growth.
- Dental implant placement. The tooth root implant, which is a small post made of titanium, is placed into the missing tooth’s bone socket.
- Bone growth and healing. As the jawbone heals, it grows around the implanted metal post. This will support the implant when you chew or bite down. The healing process typically takes 3-6 months.
- Abutment placement. Once the implant has bonded to the jawbone, a small connector post — called an abutment — is attached to the post to hold the new tooth securely.
- Artificial tooth placement. A replacement tooth, made from impressions of your teeth, is then secured onto the abutment.
How Long Do Dental Implants Last?
Success rates of dental implants vary, depending on where in the jaw the implants are placed, but, in general, implants have a success rate of up to 98%. With proper oral hygiene, implants can last a lifetime.
The Pros and Cons of Dental Implants
The advantages of dental implants include:
- Stability. Because the implant is anchored in the jawbone, it’s as stable as a natural tooth.
- No bone loss. The implant enables your jaw to retain bone matter at the site of the lost tooth.
- Improved oral health. Implants can be brushed and flossed like a natural tooth, allowing patients to maintain good oral health.
- Appearance. Depending on the site of the lost tooth, a bridge may be noticeable to others, impacting self-confidence. An implant looks just like a natural tooth.
- Durability. With proper care, implants are likely to last longer than bridges or dentures — possibly for life.
The disadvantages of implants include:
- An invasive procedure. An implant requires dental surgery, where the gums are cut open at the site of the lost tooth, and a hole is drilled into the jawbone to hold the titanium post.
- Longer healing time. An implant requires several visits to the dentist, and several months of healing time between appointments.
- Cost. Implants are more expensive than bridges or dentures, and typically aren’t covered by most insurance plans.