Good for you for researching one of the most state-of-the-art dental solutions available. A dental implant is the most natural feeling prosthetic that will feel like you have grown back a missing tooth. Perhaps you have lost a tooth for a variety of reasons or mother nature just did not gift you one. Whatever the reason, now you can have an implant that will not only look like a real tooth but will also restore the functions of a real tooth too.
Basically, a dental implant is a titanium post which is placed in the jawbone to simulate the root of the tooth. This procedure is performed by the oral surgeon. After 3 months of healing, a connecting part, called an abutment, is screwed into the implant which simulates the body of the tooth. Finally, a crown is made by a lab which covers the abutment and makes it look like a real tooth again.
This is a very simplified version of what takes place. If you would like to learn more about the process, then keep reading!
The ‘Nuts and Bolts’ of the implant system
Did you know that the forces exerted from our jaw bones are the strongest ones in the human body? Yes, that’s right, so dental implants need to be fabricated from the strongest material available. They should also be bio-compatible, which means that the body must be able to accept that material with little to no side effects. Titanium fulfills the requirements! In fact, titanium has been the chosen material used for other implants such as hip replacements and knee parts.
Once the implant has healed for at least 3 months, the surgeon will determine if it is strong enough to move onto the next phase.
This involves scanning the implant with a computer scanner and sending the information, such as the width and height, to a specialized dental lab. From the scan, the lab fabricates very precise models of the patient’s teeth and gums. Then, the abutment can be made by, yes, you guessed it… a ROBOT!
We hate to admit it, but today’s robots are better than humans when it comes to making something perfect! The robot allows the abutment to simulate the size and shape of the original tooth. This customization allows the final crown to look and feel like a real tooth.
Enough about robots, what about humans?
Luckily, humans will not be entirely replaced by robots. The patients’ very first step in the whole process is visiting another very important human called the oral surgeon. This specialist will gather your medical information and determine if you are a candidate for the implant. Very precise measurements of your jawbones are taken via radiographs to see if you have enough bone to receive an implant. If there is not enough bone, then a bone graft can be done to prepare the site to receive an implant. Bone grafts can come from synthetic sources or from your own bone. This discussion will occur between you and the oral surgeon.
So, let’s say you have enough bone and you have had your implant placed. Now, you must wait approximately 3 months for the implant to integrate with your jawbone. This healing time is very important and the area must be treated gently. Some implants that are placed towards the front of the mouth can have temporary crowns or retainers made (called stayplates) to give you the appearance that there is a tooth there. Some implants which are placed towards the back of the mouth do not need a temporary and will have, what is called, a healing abutment for 3 months. By the way, this is all decided ahead of time with the dentist.
Once you have undergone 3 months of healing, the oral surgeon will scan the healing abutment and the information is sent electronically to the lab. The lab then fabricates a final abutment and a crown. The crown can either be made out of white porcelain or yellow gold. Again, this is decided all ahead of time with the dentist. The lab then sends all the parts and crowns to the dentist to get ready for your exciting delivery day!
On the day of the delivery, the dentist will fit the parts, screw in the final abutment and cement the crown. You can now eat with confidence and smile because you have just received your very own piece of dental art!
So what does this piece of dental art cost?
Now that you know how much expertise goes into creating a new tooth, you can appreciate and understand the cost. Having dental insurance with implant benefits can definitely help. Our office can research your benefits and provide you with cost estimates.
What are the pros and cons of an implant vs. replacing a tooth with a bridge?
Traditionally, a missing could tooth could be replaced with a bridge. A bridge is a custom made prosthesis that fits over the teeth on either side of the missing tooth and a fake tooth is attached in the middle. This is still a very common way of replacing a tooth. However, the downside is that the 2 teeth on either side of the space will need to be crowned. An implant tooth is not attached to anything, and hence, it is standing freely and you can floss it on both sides.
A bridge must be flossed differently by pushing the floss under the fake tooth. One other downside to the bridge is that if either of the teeth on each side gets a cavity, then the entire bridge must be removed and replaced with a new one. The bridge cannot be saved because it must be drilled off to be removed, which destroys it in the process.
One more important advantage of the implant over a bridge is that since it is not made of any living tissue, it cannot develop a cavity!
Q: I am in my 70’s so am I too old to get dental implants? Is it worth it at my age?
A: Yes it is definitely worth the treatment. I have seen numerous patients benefit from being able to eat properly and enter their senior years with confidence and health. Some people may think that investing in themselves is not worth it, but the senior years are the most critical for health and being able to eat healthy foods require a solid dentition. I have also seen elderly patients who need their strength for undergoing rigorous medical treatments. A healthy dentition is an important part of the body.
Q: Unfortunately, I have Periodontitis (gum disease) and I have lost some teeth and bone over the years. Am I still a candidate for an implant?
A:Yes. Many of our implant patients have lost their teeth due to periodontal disease and the surgeon can determine if you need a bone graft or not. Implants are especially important for patients who have this tendency because periodontally involved teeth (teeth that are loose) are not good anchors for a bridge.
Q: Will I get stopped at airport security if I have a dental implant?
A: No. Dental implants do not trigger any alarms.
Q: My 12-year old daughter has been missing a tooth since birth. Is she a candidate for an implant or is she too young?
A: Dental implants can be placed in young adults once their jaws have developed completely. Girls’ teeth are done growing when they are approximately 17 years old, and boys’, during their early 20’s. The oral surgeon can determine if growth has been completed before the implant is placed. Most children can wear a retainer with a tooth on it until they are old enough for the implant.