Over the past few decades, dental implants have replaced bridges and dentures as one of the best ways to replace lost or damaged teeth. But what does it take to get them?
An aging population means more and more people are losing teeth. So don't be too self conscious about it, and know that modern technology has come a long way in tooth replacement. If you're considering the best way to fix that gap-toothed smile, here’s why dental implants may be the best choice.
A dental implant is a screw, typically made of titanium, that dentists insert into the jawbone. Titanium is a material that actually bonds and fuses with human bones, so over several months, a dental implant becomes a strong, permanent part of the jaw. A real-looking, artificial tooth is then attached to the titanium screw.
The teeth rarely come loose, and they don't need to be attached or anchored to existing teeth, like dentures do. They look, feel, and function like real teeth.
Dental implants need a good quantity and quality of jawbone to allow enough room for the titanium screw to be inserted and then hold. Your dentist will determine if you have enough. If you don’t, bone-grafting techniques can build enough bone to eventually get the procedure done. Grafting takes a bit more time and adds to the cost.
Gum disease or multiple cavities are also problems, but your dentist can work with you to address these issues before getting implants. Also, people with diabetes, liver disease, or bleeding disorders shouldn’t get dental implants.
Before getting dental implants, your dentist will use X-rays to look at your teeth and jawbones and see where the titanium screw should go. The dentist may also make a model of your teeth to better visualize the situation. When it’s time to put the implant in your mouth, you’ll be given a local anesthetic or other medicine so that there's no pain.
The surgeon will make an incision in the gums to expose the jawbone, drill a tiny hole, and then insert the titanium screw. Then the incision is closed up and you can go home! There may be a bit of pain and bleeding afterward, but that will go away quickly. You’ll also have to avoid hard foods for a while.
Remember what we told you about titanium fusing with bone? Well that’s the next part. You’ll have to wait anywhere from four to six months to allow the metal screw to bond with your bone. You can wear a temporary denture or crown during this time. Once adequate bonding has taken place, your jawbone is ready, and you’ll have to visit the dentist again to get the permanent, artificial tooth mounted into the screw.
Dental implants are extremely durable. If taken care of correctly, dental implants can last many decades. Depending on how old you are when you get them, one set of dental implants can last the rest of your life. Brushing and flossing regularly, just like your normal teeth, will help maintain the health of your implants.
Smoking can make bones weak and brittle, and can lead to implants failing. So quit! Also avoid chewing on hard foods. Chewing ice or candy can also break your artificial tooth, so beware!
Dental implants are more expensive than dentures or bridges. That's because patients need to visit the dentist several times. There is also surgery involved, often with a separate dental surgeon. Estimates vary, but replacing a single tooth with an implant can cost between $3,000 and $4,500 USD.
Despite the cost, many patients feel the investment is worth it. They have increased strength, stability, comfort and appearance, not to mention that implants can actually improve oral health because they help build bone matter.
There are few downsides when the dental implant procedure is done with a reputable, qualified professional. Be aware that there are offices advertising implants with unqualified dentists using inferior products. You may see “teeth in a day” or “immediate load implants,” which promise quick walk-in implants, but these can work only with patients with dense, large jawbones, and they aren’t as reliable because they give no time for the implants to fuse with existing bone.
Make sure your dentist office has the appropriate certification, and don’t be afraid to ask questions, and smile!
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