Many Americans suffer from missing teeth, affecting their ability to speak clearly, eat, and smile. Whether from accidents, gum disease, failed root canals and/or tooth decay, 69% of adults aged 35-44 have lost at least one permanent tooth, according to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. And, more than 1 out of every 4 adults aged 74 and over have lost all of their teeth. If you’re looking to replace missing teeth, you may be considering dental implants. A relatively modern option for restoring missing teeth, dental implants look, feel and function just like natural teeth. But are they right for you?
What are Dental Implants?
Just a couple of decades ago, the only way to replace missing teeth was to use a fixed bridge or removable dentures. Both of these options have downsides, which can be fairly significant. Fixed bridges can affect the healthy teeth on either side of the bridge, causing decay and the necessity of crowns, root canals and eventually, a new bridge. Removable dentures can slip, cause embarrassing clicking sounds and limit your enjoyment of certain foods. Dentures also contribute to bone loss in the area where the tooth or teeth are missing. All these issues and more are why fixed bridges and removable dentures usually need to be replaced every 7-15 years. Studies show that within 5-7 years there is a failure rate of up to 30% in teeth located next to a fixed bridge or removable partial denture.
The advent of dental implants has given patients a third, more permanent option that eliminates the downsides of bridges and dentures. Long-term replacement tooth roots that are surgically placed in the jawbone, dental implants don’t slip, make embarrassing noises, or decay. Rather than resting on the gum line like removable dentures, or using adjacent teeth as anchors like fixed bridges, dental implants are composed of titanium metal that “fuses” with the jawbone through a process called “osseointegration.” Because dental implants fuse with the jawbone, bone loss is generally not a problem.
How Dental Implants Work?
A dental implant is made of of three parts: the titanium implant that fuses with the jawbone; the abutment, which fits over the portion of the implant that protrudes from the gum line; and the crown, which is created by a prosthodontist or restorative dentist and fitted onto the abutment for a natural appearance. The fusion of the titanium implant with the jawbone provides stability to the bone and surrounding area, just as a natural tooth does. Working to actually prevent bone loss, dental implants are a tightly locked support system that best mimics what nature intended, with no slippage, decay or damage to surrounding teeth.
What Are The Benefits of Dental Implants?
Dental implants perform better than removable dentures or fixed bridges, giving patients many advantages, including:
Natural appearance. Dental implants look, function and feel like your own permanent teeth.
Better speech. No clicking, slurring or other embarrassing noises. Dental implants allow you to speak clearly.
More comfort. Implants become part of you — not something you have to get used to each day.
Confidence when eating. Implants allow you to eat confidently, eat what you want, and never worry about your dentures slipping.
More self-esteem. A healthy natural smile boosts your self-confidence and lets you be yourself.
Improved oral health. Dental implants don’t affect adjacent teeth, allow you to floss between teeth and help support the jaw bone.
Lasting value. Because implants are very durable, they can last a lifetime with good care.
Convenience. With dental implants, you never have to worry about removing and cleaning dentures, or dealing with messy adhesives.
When are Dental Implants Recommended?
Missing One Tooth
If you’re missing one tooth, an implant makes the most sense almost every time. First, the cost of an implant is roughly equal to the cost of a bridge — and the implant is permanent, while the bridge will need to be replaced every 7-15 years. Plus, the implant will not cause any damage to the surrounding teeth and will strengthen the jaw bone stability, rather than weaken it. The only situation that might make a bridge an attractive option would be if the jaw bone in the missing tooth area was already weak, or if the teeth on either side already needed crowns. Even then, a dental implant is still preferable in the long run because it would prevent further bone loss and would not need to be replaced.
Missing Several Teeth
If more than one tooth is missing adjacently in an arch, an implant bridge is usually a very good treatment. A conventional fixed bridge would have to span a gap of more than one tooth, and depending on which teeth are missing, the bridge may need to be double abutted (which can mean decay to more healthy teeth), or the span may be so long that it is dangerous to the health of the abutment teeth. An implant bridge when done properly will have strength to spare, doesn’t require root canals, and doesn’t decay.
Missing All Teeth (Upper and/or Lower)
If a patient is missing all upper teeth, an implant retained denture is a great solution. Although it’s more expensive than conventional dentures, implant dentures give patients the confidence that their dentures won’t slip, make noises, or prevent them from eating certain foods. Upper implanted dentures are generally removable. They just “lock in” to the implant. Implanted dentures are also an alternative for lower missing teeth; however, the lower implanted dentures are somewhat more difficult to wear than the uppers.
Patients should be wary of practices touting mini-implants and implants that are loaded immediately with teeth for same-day surgery. Mini-implants don’t last a lifetime and when they do need to be replaced, there is less bone to work with due to infection. A low-cost shortcut, mini-implants have a high fail rate and, as a result, the patient ends up paying much more in the long run than if they had chosen regular dental implants in the first place.
Most people can’t afford full mouth implants, although they are the “gold standard” for patients missing all their teeth. It’s a good idea to check with your insurance plan to find out what type of coverage you have for dental implants and talk to your dentist about which options will work for your specific situation.
Less Pain, More Gain
Most patients say the implant procedure is not very painful. And, with an overall success rate of about 95% and decades of clinical research, dental implants are frequently the best treatment option for replacing missing teeth. An improved quality of life, feeling and looking younger, more self-esteem, speaking more clearly, and being able to enjoy social situations and eating are just some of the benefits patients say they enjoy as a result of choosing implants over dentures or bridges.