Getting dental implants is a popular alternative to dentures that don’t fit well or if your natural tooth roots do not allow for bridgework or other repair options.
Dental implants offer significant support for your teeth because during the process, the bone heals around the implant. However, this process can take many months for completion.
Why are Dental Implants Used?
Dental implants provide a great replacement for missing or damaged teeth over dentures or other alternatives. Dentures are not the best replacement for missing teeth because they can trap food which leads to quicker gum decay and oral infections. Dentures can be thicker than normal teeth and can affect the bite or can make it difficult to speak. In fact, dentures and bridgework have a 15-20% failure rate within 10 years. Dental implants only have a 2% failure rate over the same length of time.
The surgery is a procedure that replaces tooth roots with metal, screw-like posts. Artificial teeth that function like real ones replace chipped, damaged, or missing teeth. The type of dental implant surgery that is performed depends on the condition of your jawbone. Some surgery requires multiple procedures, including tooth removal and bone grafts.
Patients consider having dental implants for numerous reasons, a few being:
- Having one or more missing teeth
- Wanting to improve speech
- Unwillingness or inability to wear dentures
Dental surgeons evaluate their patients to make sure they qualify for dental implants based on the condition of their mouth, gums, and bone structure. Your dentist will advise against implants if you have poor oral hygiene or other dental health conditions that affect bone growth.
Dental implants are secured to your jawbone, where they serve as replacements to a tooth root. In order to qualify for dental implants, you need to have a full-grown jawbone and adequate bone structure so the implant has good bones to fuse to. The titanium implants fuse to your jawbone. This ensures the implants won’t slip, make noise, or cause bone damage the way dentures or bridgework could. The materials used for implants cannot decay like your own teeth or in a way that bridgework can.
Risks of Dental Implants
Like any surgery, getting dental implants poses some health risks. Problems are rare, but if they do occur, they are typically minor and can be easily treated. Some risks include:
- Infection at the implant site – Infections are uncommon, as the surgeons use antiseptics and sterile techniques, but it is possible. The most common cause of an infection is when a patient does not comply with the doctor’s post-surgery recommendations for cleaning. Infections may not show symptoms until a month or two after the implant surgery is performed. This could be because of an existing dental issue or preexisting condition.
- Damage to surrounding structures like teeth or blood vessels. It’s important that the implant remains immovable within the first few weeks after your implant procedure. The bone will not regrow properly around the implant it suffers from micro-movement. This causes the implant to wiggle and become painful. If the bone does not regrow, the implant could result in ingrown soft tissue instead of strong bone regrowth.
- Sinus problems. If implants in the upper jaw protrude into the sinus cavity, there is a higher likeliness of the patient having more frequent sinus infections or sinusitis. This is particularly likely when a patient does not have a sinus lift or bone graft during the dental implant process.
- Nerve Damage – Damage to the Inferior Alveolar Nerve is one of the biggest risks associated with dental implant surgery. The Inferior alveolar nerve is located in the mandible (jaw) and it is these nerves that supply sensation to the bottom row of teeth. These nerves can be damaged during a local anesthetic injection or by implant drills and the implants themselves, if placed improperly. Immediate implantation following a tooth extraction can also be a cause of the nerve damage, which is why this process is so lengthy.
How to Prepare for Dental Implant Surgery
The process leading up to a dental implant procedure is quite long and involves a variety of specialists. You will see a doctor who specializes in conditions of the mouth and jaw (oral and maxillofacial surgeon), a dentist who specializes in structure which support the teeth, like gum and bones (periodontist), and a dentist who designs and fits false teeth (prosthodontist). In some cases, you may be referred to an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT) for potential sinus complications.
The process includes more than one procedure, and the first step is to have a thorough evaluation. This evaluation can be broken down into three main steps:
- A dental exam where your dentist will take X-Rays of your month and make molds of your teeth and jaw.
- An overview your medical history, including medical conditions you may have, what medications you take (both prescription and over-the-counter), and if you have any heart conditions that could be affected by the anesthetic.
- An individualized treatment plan is created specific for your situation, taking into account such things as how many teeth are being replaced, the structural integrity of your jawbone, and whether or not you are having a bone graft.
Oral surgeons help you prepare for your surgery and give you information regarding what you can and can’t drink/eat the day of your procedure, as well as anesthesia options. Plan to have someone drive you to and from the surgery, regardless of your choice of anesthesia.
What to Expect After Your Procedure
Each step of dental implant surgery is performed as an outpatient procedure. Your mouth and gums need ample time to heal between procedures, hence the multiple steps in this process. Time is necessary for bones to regrow around the implant before a tooth replacement can be safely installed. The actual surgeries are not incredibly time consuming.
An example of the stages for dental implants is as follows:
- Removal of the damaged tooth
- Bone Grafting (when necessary) or jawbone preparations
- Placement of the dental implant
- Healing and bone growth around the implant
- Placement of the abutment
- Installation of the false tooth
The longest stage of this process is the healing process and ensuring the bone is properly healed. The bone heals around the implant so micro-movement does not occur and so the procedure is successful.
Your commitment to practicing oral hygiene is key to the success of your dental implants. Brushing and flossing regularly, and having routine cleanings and visits to your dentist will help keep your mouth in excellent health.
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