When it comes to replacing missing teeth, dental implants are becoming a more popular option. Unlike dentures, implants are designed to mimic the look and function of natural teeth, providing a permanent and durable solution that can improve oral health, appearance and overall quality of life.
“Dental implants aren’t quite as well-known as other common tooth replacements like dentures,” said Dr. Aarathi Rao, oral surgeon at Marshfield Clinic Health System. “This lack of knowledge can sometimes lead patients to dismiss dental implants as an option, which is a shame because they are one of the best possible tooth replacement options.”
Benefits to getting implants
Several benefits can make dental implants a good choice, if they are right for you.
Dental implants come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, making it easier to match your natural teeth. Your dentist will work with you to design implants that match the color of your surrounding teeth and fit perfectly in the gap.
“Oral surgeons work closely with your dentist to make sure that no one will know that you have an implant except your dentist,” said Dr. Rao.
When you lose teeth, you also tend to lose bone mass in your jaw. Your jawbone needs the stimulation it gets when your teeth connect to maintain its mass. Dental implants are the only tooth replacement option that also replaces that jaw bone stimulation, helping to prevent bone loss.
Dental implants are anchored into your jaw with a titanium post that replaces the tooth root, which allows you to bite with almost the same amount of force you could use with your natural teeth. Other tooth replacement options do not restore nearly as much of your bite force because they sit on top of the gums and aren’t anchored in place.
Your teeth also help support your facial structure. When you lose teeth, you lose that support, which eventually causes your face to change shape and can make you appear older. Dental implants provide similar support for your face as your natural teeth, preventing it from changing shape.
Some tooth replacement options, like dentures, can impact your ability to pronounce words correctly. Missing teeth can also alter your speech. Dental implants feel and function just like natural teeth, so they enable you to speak easily and naturally.
“Patients with dentures sometimes feel self-conscious about speaking, laughing or eating in public, as dentures can visibly shift or slip inside your mouth,” said Dr. Rao. “Dental implants are firmly anchored in place and are designed to last for the rest of your life.”
Planning for dental implants
The first step in the dental implant process is your initial consultation after referral from a dentist. The consultation includes a review of your medical history, a thorough oral examination, and X-rays of your mouth and jaw.
Your oral surgery team will then make a mold or impression of your teeth as they are before treatment. The impression is used to build a tooth model and 3D plan for your implant placement.
If you’re getting implants in order to replace a cracked or otherwise problematic tooth, you may need to have an extraction done beforehand. This is commonly done if your dental implants will be replacing rotten, cracked or infected teeth.
Dental implant surgery is often performed with just local anesthetic, but sometimes patients prefer to be sedated and sleep through it all. Your medical history will dictate which is best and safest for you.
Following surgery, you are sent home to heal and scheduled for a routine check-up in a few months.
Taking care of the implants
Taking care of dental implants is as simple as taking care of your natural teeth. All you have to do is brush and floss like you normally would.
Dental implants don’t require you to buy any special products to clean or care for them. There’s no need for cups, cleansing tablets, adhesive or special flossers.
“Good dental hygiene is essential for adding life to your implants,” said Dr. Rao. “Implants need examination and cleaning every six months. Those checkups will ensure your implant screws last a lifetime, and will extend the life span of your abutments and crowns. Extra care goes a long way in preserving your implants.”