What is Implant Dentistry?
Implant Dentistry is the dental specialty that focuses on restorative procedures that replaces missing teeth with ones that look, feel, and perform like their own. Implant Dentistry involves the surgical placement of one or more artificial tooth roots known as dental implants.
What are Dental Implants?
A dental implant is an artificial tooth root which acts as an anchor for replacement teeth. Shaped like a screw, it is surgically placed into the jawbone in order to secure a replacement tooth or bridge in place. Implants are stable and permanent and are not reliant on neighboring teeth for support. They are an ideal tooth replacement procedure because they look and feel like natural teeth.
Implants are great for patients who are unable to wear dentures. Instead, the implant is placed directly into the jawbone to support permanently cemented bridges. Implants can be made from several different types of metallic and bone-like ceramic materials that are compatible with body tissue. When surgically anchored into the jawbone, the implant fuses with living bone in a process known as “osseointegration”.
What types of implants are available?
- Root Form Implants – The cylindrical or screw type implant is the closest in shape and size to the root of a tooth. It is the most widely used design, and generally used when there is enough width and depth of jawbone to provide a base for replacement of one, several or a complete arch of teeth. In some cases, an implant dentist may need to perform bone grafting where the jawbone is too narrow or short for root form implants.
How does the implant procedure work?
Implant procedures can be done in the dental office with local anesthesia. The actual implant procedure involves several steps:
- The implant or implants are surgically placed into the jaw.
- The jaw is allowed to heal for a period of up to six months. During this stage, the bone grows and bonds in and around the implant (this is also known as osseointegration). The dentist may create a temporary tooth replacement for the patient to wear over the implant site during the healing period.
- The implant is uncovered, and a small metal post called an abutment is attached. The gum is again allowed to heal for a couple of weeks following this procedure.
- The restoration or crown is fabricated and permanently attached to the abutment.
Note that there are some implant systems (one-stage) that do not require step 3 above. These systems use an implant which already has the abutment attached. The implant procedure may be a cooperative effort between a surgical dentist who does the actual implant placement and a restorative dentist who creates and inserts the final replacement teeth. Some dentists have advanced training and can perform all of these services.
What are the advantages of Dental Implants?
- Preventative – dental Implants can prevent the bone loss and gum recession that often occurs with bridgework and dentures.
- Cost effective – Since one tooth is replaced instead of the several necessary to install a bridge, dental implants can actually cost less than traditional bridgework.
- Conservative – Unlike traditional bridges, adjacent teeth are not needed to support the implant. This means that the adjacent teeth do not have to be ground down to support crowns like they do for conventional bridges. Your own natural teeth are not compromised.
- Comfort – Dental implants function very similar to your natural teeth and are comfortable and stable. This eliminates some of the key problems of dentures including poor fit, gum irritation and pain from nerve compression.
- Reliable – Dental Implants are highly predictable.
- Esthetic – Implant supported crowns look and feel like your own teeth.
- Preservative – Missing teeth causes bone shrinkage, which can result in a receding jaw line and change in facial structure. Dental implants help prevent deterioration of the jawbone so the patient’s face retains its natural shape and appearance.
What other Implant Dentistry procedures are available?
For successful implant placement, it is vital that the patient have sufficient jawbone. Inadequacies in the upper or lower jaw can cause problems in anchoring the implant, and also cause an unattractive indentation in the jaw line near the missing teeth. These inadequacies may have been the result of periodontal disease, wearing dentures, developmental defects, injury or trauma.
Ridge Modification – A procedure called Ridge Modification is performed to correct the problem. First, the implant dentist will lift the gum away from the ridge to expose the bony defect. The defect is then filled with bone or bone substitutes to build up the ridge (also known as bone grafting). The incision is closed and allowed to heal. The jaw bone usually will be allowed to develop for about four to twelve months before implants can be placed. For some patients, the implant can actually be placed at the same time the ridge is modified.
Sinus Augmentation – For some patients, the upper back jaw is a difficult area for dental implants due to insufficient bone and the close proximity to the sinus. Sinus augmentation corrects this problem by raising the sinus floor and developing bone for the placement of dental implants. First an incision is made in the gum to expose the bone. Then a small circle is cut into the bone, and the bone piece is lifted into the sinus cavity like a trap door. The implant dentist then fills the space underneath with bone graft material. The incision is closed and allowed to heal for a period of four to 12 months to allow the bone to regenerate. Once fully healed, the implant dentist will place the implant.
Am I candidate for dental implants?
Anyone in reasonable health and with adequate jaw bone is a candidate for dental implants. Implant patients can be in their early teens or be mature adults in their seventies and eighties.
How do I take care of my dental implants?
Dental implants actually require more care than your natural tooth. Dental implants do not have the biological zone that a natural tooth has which keeps bacteria out. As such, it is important to maintain careful routine home care. Professional cleaning visits are recommended every 3-4 months, along with a re-care treatment and evaluation. The dentist will create an individualized program for you to optimally care for your new teeth.