When a tooth is lost, it doesn’t just affect your appearance. A complete set of teeth is important functionally as well from a general health point of view.
Our permanent teeth are meant to last for our entire lifetime, provided we take good care of them, eat the right foods, and ensure good oral hygiene. Tooth enamel is the toughest material in the human body, even more than the bones. Bacteria cause tooth decay, and these organisms cannot survive once the person dies – that’s why archaeologists frequently find ancient human skulls with an intact set of teeth.
However, a tooth can fall out during a person’s lifetime due to injury, infection, or decay, while diseases of the gums can cause the teeth to loosen and fall out.
Health Risks Due To Missing Teeth
- Jaw-bone shrinkage
- Receding gums create pockets for the growth of bacteria
- Adjacent teeth become weaker
- Adjacent teeth may migrate into the gap causing misalignment
- Poor oral health leads to other general health problems
There are several different options to replace missing teeth. They include dentures and bridges besides dental implants.
What Are Dental Implants?
Dental implants are artificial replacements for the lost tooth root. They are also known as endosseous fixtures or implants. These are a type of surgical component that can be fixed permanently in the place of the missing tooth and serve as a support for other dental prosthetic devices such as crowns, bridges, dentures, or other facial orthodontic prostheses.
Historically, dental implants have been around for thousands of years. In Ancient China, wooden/bamboo pegs carved into the shape of the tooth were implanted in the jaw-bone to replace a lost tooth, while the body of a king of Ancient Egypt who lived in approximately 1000 BC has been found with a copper peg hammered into his upper jaw-bone. Evidence of false teeth implanted into the jaw made from iron in France dating back to 300 BC has been found, but it may have been done post mortem as the pain would have been excruciating. Other materials that seem to have been used in ancient times include jade, precious stones, and sea-shells.
The modern dental implant is a screw-shaped post usually made from titanium that is surgically placed directly into the jaw-bone to replace the roots of the missing tooth/teeth. Here it undergoes a process of osseointegration where the implant fuses with the surrounding bone and becomes integrated with it. In the 1970s, scientists discovered that titanium and its alloys have very high osseointegration properties compared to any other substance. It is also one of the most bio-compatible materials as it does not react with body fluids or corrode as other metals do. A thin film of oxide forms on the surface of titanium and protects the metal from these reactions.
Once the implant is fixed, the process of integration begins. This could take a few months as the jaw-bone grows and surrounds the implant firmly. This can be used as a firm base for other artificial devices such as dentures and artificial teeth.
The Dental Implants Benefits are considerable:
- Comfortable and natural look
- Sturdy, reliable and durable
- Better general health due to improved ability to chew
- Aesthetic appeal increases
- Speech improvement
- Better oral health and hygiene
- Confidence and self-esteem boost
- More convenient and less embarrassing than removable dentures
Step By Step Dental Implants Procedure
- Preparation: Apart from your regular dentist, several other medical and dental professionals must be a part of the team. Physicians who specialize in conditions of the mouth and face, maxillofacial surgeons who specialize in surgical procedures involving the jaw-bone and face, dentists with experience in tooth-supportive structural work including the gums and surrounding bones, dentists with experience in fitting dental prosthetic devices such as artificial teeth, an ENT specialist, dental nurses, anesthetist, after-care specialists, etc. These professionals will complete the initial assessment process of your jaw-bone, conduct bone density tests, review your medical history, and assess your general health, age, and lifestyle. You will also need to go through an evaluation of how many teeth need to be replaced.
- Surgical procedure: You may need general or local anesthesia based on your dental team’s assessment. An incision is made in the gum, and a suitable hole is drilled with a saline wash to keep the temperature down. The implant is placed and screwed into place. The surrounding tissue is arranged to cover the implant completely. This is the basic process, but you may need bone grafting if the jaw bone is not strong enough.
- Healing Time: You will experience swelling of gums and face, bruising, pain, and slight bleeding. Healing time 3-6 months is provided for the implant to become stable. You may have to take antibiotics to prevent infection. Painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed.
- Follow-up: You may need several more visits to ensure that the healing process is on track.
- Fitting of Prosthetics: Based on the requirement, you will have to get bridges, crowns, or dentures fitted on the implant.
The Beaverton dentistry team will advise you on proper maintenance, oral hygiene, prevention of growth of bacteria, assessment for bone loss, etc.
Are You A Suitable Candidate For Dental Implants?
Though dental implants are one of the most effective and permanent ways to replace a missing tooth, not everyone is a suitable candidate for it. If you:
- Are an adult with a full growth of the jawbone
- Have missing or loose teeth
- Have enough bone density and strength in the jawbone to support the implant
- Don’t have any conditions that prevent bone healing
- Don’t want to wear dentures
- Don’t smoke or chew tobacco
- Have enough time to commit to a long process
Implant surgery is generally successful, but as with any other surgical procedure, you could be at risk of infection. Surgical errors could occur, damaging surrounding teeth and tissues. A serious problem could occur if a nerve is damaged. This can cause chronic pain in the site, numbness, burning, tingling, etc. in surrounding areas such as the chin, lips, or gums. If the implants are located in the upper jaw, there could be a risk of the implant penetrating one of the sinus cavities in the region, causing long term sinus problems. However, this rarely becomes a long-term condition.