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Dental implants becoming the treatment of choice for replacement of missing teeth

By Cheryl Alexander

Millions of Americans contend with missing teeth and the variety of options for restoring them. According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS), dental implants are frequently the best treatment for replacing missing teeth and are fast becoming the treatment of choice for many. Statistics show that 69 percent of adults ages 35-44 have lost at least one permanent tooth to an accident, gum disease, a failed root canal or tooth decay. Twenty-six percent of adults have lost all of their permanent teeth by age 74.

Even only a couple of decades ago, these patients would have had no choice other than a fixed bridge or removable denture to restore their ability to eat, speak clearly and smile. These solutions, however, are not the perfect solution and often bring with them a number of other problems. For example, removable dentures may slip, trap food or cause embarrassing clicking sounds while eating.

Of even greater concern, fixed bridges and removable dentures often negatively affect adjacent, healthy teeth. Within five to seven years, there is an up to 30 percent failure rate in teeth next to fixed bridges or removable partial dentures. Recurrent decay, periodontal (gum) disease and other factors often doom fixed bridgework to early failure. In most cases, fixed bridges and removable dentures typically must be replaced every seven to 15 years. Alarming statistics like these are likely why many dental patients today opt for dental implants.

What Are Dental Implants?

Rather than resting on the gum line like removable dentures, or using adjacent teeth as anchors like fixed bridges, dental implants are long-term replacements that your oral and maxillofacial surgeon surgically places in the jawbone (replacement tooth roots). Implants provide a strong foundation for fixed (permanent) or removable replacement teeth that are made to match your natural teeth. Developed in 1952, they have a ninety-plus percent success rate and long-term studies continue to show improving success. The AAOMS reports that even after more than 20 years of service, the vast majority of dental implants first placed by oral and maxillofacial surgeons in the United States still continues to function at peak performance. More importantly, the recipients of those early dental implants are still satisfied they made the right choice. If properly cared for, dental implants can last a lifetime.

A dental implant is actually a small titanium post acting as an anchor similar to the root structure of a natural tooth. Titanium is used because of its compatibility with bone and oral tissues. It is placed into your upper or lower jaw bone and can support a crown, bridge, or snap-on over denture. Implants are very durable and can last a lifetime. A single tooth or full arch of teeth can be replaced. Maintaining implants is much like maintaining natural teeth and should include brushing, flossing and regular dental check-ups.

What Are the Advantages of Dental Implants?

  • Improved appearance
  • Improved speech
  • Improved comfort
  • Easier eating
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Improved oral health
  • Durability
  • Convenience

What Does the Procedure Involve?

The first step is the development of an individualized treatment plan which will address your specific needs and is prepared by a team of professionals, specially trained and experienced in oral surgery and restorative dentistry. This team approach provides coordinated care based on the implant option that is best for you.

Next, the tooth root implant is placed into the bone socket of the missing tooth. As the jawbone heals, it grows around the implanted metal post, anchoring it securely in the jaw. The healing process can take from six to 12 weeks. Once the implant has bonded to the jawbone, a small connector post (an abutment) is attached to the post to securely hold the new tooth.

To make your new tooth or teeth, your dentist makes impressions of your teeth and creates a model of your bite. Your new tooth or teeth are based on this model. A replacement tooth (a crown) is then attached to the abutment. Instead of one or more individual crowns, some patients may have attachments placed on the implant that retain and support a removable denture. Your dentist will match the color of your new teeth to your natural teeth. Because the implant is secured within the jawbone, the replacement teeth look, feel and function just like your own natural teeth.

Are Dental Implants Painful?

Most people who have received dental implants report very little discomfort involved in the procedure. Local anesthesia can be used, and most patients report that implants involve less pain than a tooth extraction. After the dental implant, mild soreness can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications.

Who Should Not Get Dental Implants?

Most adults are candidates for dental implants. However, smokers and those with uncontrolled chronic diseases or systemic problems may not be good candidates for this procedure. Smoking impedes healing in the mouth and can reduce the likelihood that implants will be successful. People with poorly controlled diabetes may not be good candidates for implants as well, due to healing problems of the gum tissue.

Why Not Conventional Dentures?

Implants can be used to replace one missing tooth so that the replacement looks and feels natural. Also, two or more implants can serve as a stable support for the replacement of many teeth.

Many patients who have selected dental implants describe a quality of life more comfortable and secure than one endured by those with fixed bridges or removable dentures. Dentures often make a person feel and look older than they are, cause embarrassment in social situations when they slip and click, and restrict the pleasure of eating comfortably.

Patients report their implants eliminate the day-to-day frustrations and discomfort of ill-fitting dentures, allowing people to enjoy a healthy and varied diet without the restrictions denture wearers face. With renewed self-confidence, many people rediscover the joy of an active lifestyle with the chance to speak clearly and comfortably with family and co-workers. For all these reasons, people with dental implants often say they feel better, look better and live better.

Will Insurance Cover the Procedure?

The cost of dental implants varies depending on the number of missing teeth and the area of the country in which the implant dentistry is performed. The cost can range from $2,000 to $4,000 per tooth. Prior to treatment, your dental professional can go over implant prices and discuss your payment options with you. Fortunately, financing is available. Third-party financing companies can provide credit and many dental offices offer installment plans for their dental implant patients to help manage the cost of replacing missing teeth.

Implants are the latest dental technology for replacing the roots of lost teeth and are used to support crowns, bridges and dentures. Implants offer stability, comfort and a sense of freedom for those who have missing teeth and want to regain their smile. As we age, some of us will lose teeth due to disease, injury or simple daily wear. In addition to bringing about unwanted changes to a person’s facial appearance, missing teeth have a negative effect on confidence and self-esteem. With the advent of implant dentistry, however, those who are missing one, two or several teeth no longer have to accept a lifetime of embarrassment and inconvenience.