Nothing can take the place of a healthy set of teeth, but when disease or an accident ends in tooth loss, it's good to know that there are options for restoring your smile. If you are self-conscious because you have missing teeth or you wear dentures, there is an alternative: dental implants.
Many patients choose implants to replace a single tooth, several teeth or to support a full set of dentures. Implants are cylinders that are surgically placed in the upper or lower jaw where they function as a sturdy anchor for replacement teeth. They are made of titanium and other materials that are compatible with the human body.
The single tooth implant replaces the missing tooth's roots. A single tooth implant is a freestanding unit and does not involve treatment to the adjustment teeth.
If the surrounding teeth are healthy, they can remain untouched, and their strength and integrity may be maintained. The implant can stabilize your bite and help prevent problems with the jaw.
Dental implants may be used to support a bridge when several teeth are missing. The bridge replaces the lost natural teeth and some of the tooth roots. An implant-supported bridge does not require support from adjacent teeth. If you are missing all of your teeth, an implant-supported denture can replace the missing teeth and some of the tooth roots. Because the dental implants integrate with the jawbone, an implant-supported denture tends to be comfortable and stable, allowing you to bite and chew naturally.
The placement of an implant generally is a three-part process that takes several months.
In the first step, the dentist surgically places the implant into the jaw, with the top of the implant slightly above the top of the bone. A screw is inserted into the implant to prevent gum tissue and other debris from entering.
The gum is then secured over the implant, where it will remain covered for approximately three to six months while the implant fuses with the bone, a process called osseointegration. There may be some swelling and/or tenderness after the surgery, so pain medication is usually prescribed to alleviate the discomfort. Your dentist may recommend a diet of soft foods, cold foods and warm soup during the healing process.
In the second step, the implant is uncovered and the dentist attaches a post called an abutment to the implant. The gum tissue is allowed to heal around the post. Once healed, the implant and post serve as the foundation for the new tooth. With some implants, this step is not needed because the implant and post are all one unit.
In the third and final step, the dentist makes a custom artifical tooth, called a dental crown, based on size, shape, color and fit that will blend with your other teeth. Once completed, the crown is attached to the implant post.