Guide to dental implants – what you should know
If you require a tooth root replacement, chances are good that your orthodontist recommended dental implants to you. Even the best invisible aligners cannot replace a missing tooth, after all. The demand for dental implants is on the rise, as the recent technological advances assure a much higher success rate than in previous decades. But what exactly are these medical devices? What are the things to consider before getting them? What about the benefits and risks? In this article, we answer all those questions and many more.
What are dental implants?
A dental implant is basically a medical device that is surgically implanted in your jaw. They have the capability of restoring the patient’s ability to chew, improving the patient’s cosmetic appearance, and can provide support for “artificial” teeth. When we lose one of our teeth, numerous complications can present themselves. For example, we might experience rapid bone loss or a change in our chewing pattern. What dental implants do is replace these lost teeth, allowing for improved overall health, and quality of life, as well as improving the patient’s self-confidence and self-esteem.
Dental implants are usually made out of three parts. There’s the dental implant body, the dental implant abutment, and the crown. The body and abutment are created from pure titanium and they fit into the bone under the gum. The crown is a “replica” of your natural teeth, and it is usually custom-made. Together, these three parts can replace any tooth and can be personalized to fit any patient. Of course, they will also match your natural teeth perfectly and allow you to overcome your smile insecurities. That being said, dental implants are not for everyone. There are quite a few things you may want to consider before deciding to replace your lost teeth with them.
Things to consider before getting a dental implant
Before you make the decision whether or not to undergo dental implantation, you will want to consider the following:
- Your overall health
- The healing process might be long
- The cost
Not everyone is an ideal candidate for dental implants, after all. Furthermore, you may want to talk to your orthodontist and see what kind of implants are available to you. For example, if you only have access to endosteal implants and you do not have a healthy jawbone, you might want to explore other options. There are many different types of braces you can consider instead, and they might be your best option. Or you can find another orthodontist with access to other implant types. But even if you do have access to suitable implants, you will still want to carefully deliberate before making the decision to get them.
Your overall health will dictate your viability as a candidate for dental implants. It will determine the length of time the implant will stay in place, the healing period, as well as additional risks. Dental implantation is surgery, after all, and you need to be sufficiently healthy for it. One of the main qualities of a good orthodontist is that they will never perform a surgery on someone that is not fit for it. You might be required to present your orthodontist with your medical records, or even undergo additional testing.
If you are a smoker, you may want to consider getting dental implants very carefully. Smoking will, in most cases, reduce the long-term effectiveness of the implant and may even cause it to fail much sooner than expected. Furthermore, smoking will negatively impact the healing process. Therefore, if you absolutely need to get dental implants, you may want to quit or at least limit your smoking habits.
The healing process
You also need to consider that the healing process will take quite some time. After the procedure, you can expect to require a minimum of several months to heal, usually a bit longer. During that time, you will have a temporary abutment in place of your tooth, which might affect your choice. Needless to be said, this will also make it more difficult to maintain your oral health for the time being. While the healing process is a necessary step of getting an implant, it can be simply unacceptable for some people. Make sure to give it its due consideration.
While the cost may be unique to each patient, the general cost of each implant is between $1,500 and $2,000. And if you thought that is bad, there’s more. You will also need to pay for additional costs such as the crown (tooth), abutment, the procedure itself, office visits, and pre/post-op care. All in all, you can expect that a single dental implant will set you back as much as $3,000-$4,800!
The good news is that dental implants are usually covered by dental insurance. Your insurance will not cover all the expenses, of course, but it will make them a bit more bearable. But if you are coping with dental anxiety and the expenses will also force you to cope with financial anxiety, getting these implants might not be the best idea. At the very least, you may want to carefully consider the associated costs before you make the decision. Make sure to talk with your orthodontist about all of the costs, too. While most will be rather forthcoming, some may wish to hide some costs to make you more amenable to getting the implants.
The benefits and risks of dental implants
A few more things you may want to consider are the benefits and associated risks that come with dental implants. Both are very important, and you may want to take your time. Let’s start with the benefits.
Benefits of dental implants
- Restoring the patient’s ability to chew
- Cosmetic appearance
- Greater convenience
- Improved comfort
- Helps preserve the health of gums and surrounding bone
- Prevents bone loss
Overall, the greatest advantage of dental implants is that they will have the potential to greatly improve your quality of life. They are also much more convenient and even surpass the long term health benefits of braces. But they also come with a few risks.
Risks of dental implants
- Implant failure
- Surgery-related injuries
- Potential damage to surrounding teeth
- Non-adequate function
- Loosening of abutment screws
- Post-surgery numbness
- Difficulty maintaining oral hygiene
Getting dental implants means that you will have to undergo surgery. And that means that there are a million little things that can go wrong. Furthermore, the implant body might fail due to either systemic infection, local infection, or due to delayed healing. The latter is much more common in patients that are smokers. Lastly, dental implants can interfere with MRI scans as well as some x-ray procedures.
Different types of dental implants
Dental implants can be divided into the following two categories:
- Standard dental implants
- “All-On-Four” implants
When it comes to standard dental implants, there are three common types: Endosteal, zygomatic, and subperiosteal.
The most common type is endosteal implants, as these implants are suited for most patients. However, they require the patient to have a healthy jawbone.
Zygomatic implants are the least common type. The procedure to get a zygomatic implant is also the most complicated one. But they are suitable for patients who do not have enough jawbone to get endosteal implants. The reason for that is that zygomatic implants are installed on the cheekbone instead of the jawbone.
Subperiosteal implants are somewhere in the middle. The procedure for these implants involves placing a metal frame (with a post attached) under your gum. This allows the gum to heal around the frame, holding it in place. The crown is then placed on the resulting pole.
All-On-Four implants present an alternative, one that allows for placing a full set of replacement teeth. The way it works is that the four dental implants are placed inside the available bone, without any need for bone grafting. After that, the orthodontist will place a set of replacement teeth on the very same day. Do note, however, that these teeth will be temporary, and that you will need to undergo a special diet while they are in place. The healing process for All-On-Four implants is usually six months, after which you will get permanent replacement teeth (and will be able to resume your normal diet).
A step-by-step guide on the dental implant procedure
The placement of dental implants involves five steps:
- Jawbone preparation
- Placing the implant
- Waiting for bone growth
- Placing the abutment
- Attaching the crown
These steps are carried over several surgeries, allowing for time for the healing process between each one. Every patient is unique, though, and there are usually a few alterations to the whole process. But you will still need to go through all of the steps.
Step 1: Jawbone preparation
The initial step is to prepare your jawbone for the implant. First, your orthodontist will remove the remains of your tooth. Then they will determine whether your jawbone has the required thickness. If it does not, they will perform bone grafting which will create a stronger implant base.
Step 2: Placing the dental implants
This is where actual surgery begins. The orthodontist will create an incision and open your gum, exposing the bone underneath. Then they will drill into the bone and fill the hole with an implant metal post. This post will serve as the root of your tooth, which is why it needs to be implanted deep into the bone. Of course, you will receive anesthesia for the procedure. There are a couple of anesthetic options you can choose from, such as general anesthesia, local anesthetic, IV sedation, and nitrous oxide sedation with local anesthesia.
Either way, you are not going to feel any pain.
After the procedure, you will have empty space where your tooth used to be. You will also have the option of a temporary denture for appearance’s sake, and you can remove it while you sleep.
Step 3: Bone growth
The next step is to wait on bone growth. This process, known as osseointegration, will make your jawbone attach and grow into the surface of the implant, creating a secure base. The entire process is quite similar to how our roots act with our natural teeth.
Step 4: The abutment
After the bone growth process is complete, step four involves another surgery. At this step, your orthodontist will place the abutment which is necessary for the crown to be attached. While this is another surgery, it is a minor one and most patients only require local anesthesia for it.
Your gum will need to be reopened to expose the implant before the abutment can be attached. After it is attached, your orthodontist will close the gum tissue around the abutment. After this step, you will need to allow your gums to heal. The healing period is usually a couple of weeks, depending on your overall health. After your gums heal, it is time for the final step!
Step 5: Attaching the crown
This part is exceptionally simple. All that is left to do is to attach the crown (artificial tooth) to the implant.
Dental implants work for most patients, due to the fact that there are numerous steps that can increase your eligibility. For example, having any cavities or gum disease might preclude you from getting implants but they can be rectified. And if you have a weak jawbone, there is always the possibility of bone grafting. That being said, dental implants are definitely not for everyone. It is entirely possible that you simply are not a good candidate for implants, due to a variety of reasons. In those cases, you might want to consider alternatives, such as teeth braces, removable dentures, or a tooth-supported fixed bridge. But if you qualify for implants, and have carefully considered the pros and cons, they are still the best tooth replacement on the market. Nothing comes even close to them!
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