Dental Implants Introduction
Dental implants are designed to provide a foundation for replacement teeth that look, feel, and function like natural teeth. The person who has lost teeth regains their ability to eat virtually anything and can smile with confidence, knowing that their teeth appear natural and facial contours will be preserved.
There are a variety of reasons we lose teeth. Some of the causes include cavities, bone and gum loss, and trauma. In many of these situations, missing teeth may leave us without the ability to chew or with unpleasant spaces when we smile. Missing teeth can be replaced a number of ways ranging from "Fixed" tooth replacement (teeth that permanently stay in your mouth) to "Removable" tooth replacement (teeth that can be taken out of your mouth to clean).
Examples of "Fixed" tooth replacement include bridges and dental implants. "Removable" tooth replacement is often referred to as dentures.
What is a Dental Implant
A tooth has two parts to it: the "Crown" that is visible above our gums and the "Root" that is supporting the crown below the gums. A dental implant is simply a replacement for the "Root" portion of the tooth. This new root (implant) is made of pure titanium. Since there is no nerve in a dental implant, a cavity can never develop and therefore a root canal will never be required.
Once a tooth is removed from the mouth, an empty socket space remains in the bone. A dental implant can be placed into the socket. The bone surrounding this new "root" can actually fuse itself to the implant. A crown made by your dentist may then be attached to the implant, completing the replacement of the missing tooth.
Dental implants can be used to replace single, multiple, or all teeth. Implants can also assist in providing stabilization for loose dentures. A connection can be made between the implant and your denture to aid in its retention during function. Orthodontic implants may be used to assist in the movement of your teeth.
Bridges vs. Dental Implants
In cases of tooth loss (usually when the missing area is between teeth on either side) a choice often exists between replacing teeth with a bridge or with implants. Dental implants do not typically involve the adjacent teeth. The implant (or new tooth root) is placed in the bone and restored with a crown. This new tooth is independent of its neighbors and cannot breakdown due to cavities. Individual tooth replacement with implants can be flossed on either side, as it is not connected to its neighbors. The lifespan of dental implants can be beyond 35 years.
In the case of a bridge, the teeth on either side of the empty space must be cut down by your dentist and prepared to receive crowns. The empty space is filled with fake teeth (called pontics) that are attached to the crowns on either side. In this scenario, adjacent teeth are compromised due to the fact that they must be cut down to receive the bridge. The average life span of a bridge is reported between 7 and 10 years, Typically, breakdown of the bridge begins when cavities start at the junction between tooth structure and crown.
Tooth Loss Leads to Gum and Bone Loss
The importance of maintaining healthy teeth and gums goes well beyond keeping a pleasant smile. Teeth provide us with the ability to chew our food and nourish our bodies. As we lose our teeth, the gum and bone tissue in the area resorbs away. This resorption may occur quickly (25% of bone width can be lost within the 1st year) and then continue at a steady rate over time. Once the gum and bone tissue are lost, it may become more difficult to replace the teeth in this area in both a functional and aesthetic fashion.
When dental implants are placed into the empty socket of a removed tooth, the body still believes a tooth is present. It has been demonstrated that implant placement into an extraction site actually can help preserve the bone structure. This will allow for a better overall aesthetic result.
If the extraction site is left empty or if a bridge is placed over the site, the tissue resorption described above is often seen, leaving visible voids where gum and bone tissue should be.