What are Dental Implants?
Dental implants are titanium or zirconium screw-like posts that are surgically positioned into the jawbone underneath the gums to support artificial replacement teeth. Before the advent of dental implants, the only means of replacing a missing tooth with a non-removable ‘artificial tooth’ (denture) was by making a bridge. Making a bridge often involved ‘cutting and preparing’ healthy teeth on either side of the space left by the missing tooth.
For some people, ordinary bridges and dentures are simply not comfortable or even possible, due to sore spots, poor ridges or gagging. In addition, ordinary bridges must be attached to teeth on either side of the space left by the missing tooth. An advantage of implants is that no adjacent teeth need to be prepared or ground down to hold your new replacement tooth/teeth in place.
Clinical and radiological assessment is the first step in the planning for the replacement of missing teeth with dental implants. The clinical examination involves assessment of the soft tissue at the site while conventional and often three-dimensional (cone beam computed tomography- CBCT) radiology is required to determine the amount of bone available.
The two phases in implant therapy are the surgical and the restorative phases. The surgical phase involves placement of the implant(s) in the jawbone, while the restorative phase involves attachment of the artificial tooth/ teeth to the integrated implant.
The surgical procedure can be performed in the theatre but are mostly done in the dental chair at the practice. If the bone is ‘slightly’ inadequate, a bone grafting procedure is required, and this is done simultaneously with implant placement. When the available width or height of bone is ‘highly’ inadequate, an initial bone grafting surgery to correct the defect is necessary. In these instances, implant placement may be delayed up to 9 months.
The bone around the implant heals in a process called osseointegration. A soft diet is recommended during the healing process. Chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, may interfere with healing after surgery. Smoking can also slow healing. Patients with these issues may not be good candidates for implants.
The restorative phase can commence once the implants are stable in the jawbone. If there is adequate stability of the implants at the time of the surgical placement of the implant, the customised teeth can be fitted immediately. In most cases, a two-month waiting period is observed before restoring the implants. A temporary denture is worn in the interim. The preparation of the customized teeth involves taking impressions and manufacturing of the artificial teeth in the dental lab or chairside using computer aided design and manufacturing (CAD-CAM) technology.
- A non-removable artificial tooth replacement.
- Good oral health because they do not have to be anchored to other teeth, like conventional bridges.
- No adjacent teeth need to be prepared or ground down to hold your new replacement tooth/teeth in place.
- Dental implants are the strongest devices available to support replacement teeth.
- Dental implant supported teeth, feel, look and function naturally.
- Dentures and bridges mounted to implants won’t slip or shift in your mouth — an especially important benefit when eating and speaking.
- Improved quality of Life – more confident talking, eating, and laughing in social settings.
Taking care of your dental implants
- Meticulous plaque removal everyday through effective brushing and flossing are critical to the long-term success of dental implants.
- An antibacterial mouth-rinse is indicated especially in the immediate post-surgical period.
- Using special interdental brushes and oral irrigation devices, can help clean the hard to reach areas around the implant.
- Quit smoking – smoking can weaken the bone structure and can contribute to implant failure.
- Visit your dentist – professional cleanings and exams every six months can help ensure your implant is in good condition, and that it stays that way.
- Regular medical checkups to monitor chronic diseases such as diabetes.
If you are self-conscious because you have missing teeth, wear dentures that are uncomfortable or don’t want to have good tooth structure removed to make a bridge, talk to your dentist to see if dental implants are an option for you. Modern dental implants have been used successfully for over 30 years. When performed by a trained and experienced dental surgeon, dental implant surgery is one of the safest and most predictable procedures in dentistry. They are an excellent long-term option for restoring your smile.
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