What are dental implants and how do they work?

Dental implants are a very effective and successful tooth replacement option. In fact, dental implant surgery has a success rate greater than 90 percent.

Tooth loss among adults is very common. Factors such as gum disease, tooth decay, a failed root canal, or injuries can often lead to missing teeth. In fact, more 7 out of 10 adults between the ages of 40 and 64 have lost at least one tooth, according to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons.

If you’re missing teeth, it’s important to replace them as soon as possible. Once an adult tooth is lost, the jaw bone that supported that tooth disintegrates, and this disintegration is magnified if many teeth are missing. The deterioration can severely impact the structure of the face and may even impact facial joints and muscles. In addition, the remaining teeth can shift, causing issues with chewing, bite alignment, and more.

In the past, dentures and fixed bridgework were the only solutions for missing teeth, but dental implants have become a popular alternative due to their more natural look.

What are dental implants?

A dental implant is a titanium screw that is anchored in the jaw bone. After the screw has fused to the bone, the implant is topped with a replacement tooth.

Dental implants look and function like real teeth, and do not cause many of the issues associated with dentures or bridges. In addition to being uncomfortable, dentures and bridges can also negatively impact eating, speaking, and chewing. They may even cause damage to neighboring teeth. Dentures and bridges can also be hard to clean, and can cause those who wear them to be self-conscious.

How are dental implants inserted?

Dental implant procedures should always be performed by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. These dental specialists are experts in issues affecting the jaw, mouth, and face. They can help you determine if implants are the right solution for you.

The implant process does take time and multiple steps are involved. You will first have a consultation with your oral surgeon to determine with your oral surgeon to develop a treatment plan that addresses your individual situation. Your oral surgeon will take x-rays to evaluate the integrity of your jawbone. In some cases, if there is not enough bone to support an implant, your doctor may recommend a bone graft. A bone graft may be done at the same time as the implant surgery, or it may need time to heal before the implant can be placed.

For placement of the dental implant, your surgeon may recommend that you be sedated using general anesthesia. Your surgeon will make an incision in your gums to expose the bone. Then the titanium post is inserted into the socket of the missing tooth.

There is a waiting and healing period between the screw implant and the tooth addition. As the area heals, the jawbone surrounding the implant will fuse to the post, securing it in place. This healing period may last up to 12 weeks, during which time you may have follow-up appointments with your surgeon to monitor your progress. Once the implant is secure, your doctor will attach a replacement tooth, called a crown. The crown will be designed to fit into the space and blend perfectly with your other teeth.

Are dental implants worth it?

Everyone’s situation is different. Factors such as your age, the integrity of your jawbone, the number of missing teeth, and your overall oral health will play a role in whether dental implants are worth it for you. Overall, dental implants are a very effective and successful tooth replacement option. In fact, dental implant surgery has a success rate greater than 90 percent.

Many people appreciate the convenience of dental implants over bridges or dentures. Dental implants are more comfortable, and no special care is required. Caring for dental implants is easy; you treat them just like your real teeth. Brush and floss daily, and schedule regular appointments with your dentist.

How long do dental implants last?

With proper care, the implant itself can last a lifetime. The crown, however, may eventually need to be replaced. Dental crowns typically last 10-15 years under normal wear and tear, but crowns can be damaged due to injury, just like your regular teeth. Taking good care of your oral health will help ensure that your implants — and the rest of your teeth — remain in good shape.

What is the downside of dental implants?

For most people, the only downside of dental implants is the cost. Dental implants are typically more expensive than other tooth replacement options, and they may not be covered by dental insurance. However, don’t let that stop you from asking your dental provider if implants are right for you. Your oral surgeon can help you make the most of your insurance benefits. In some cases — such as if the missing tooth is the result of an accident — implants may be covered by your medical insurance.

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