Dental implants are one of several ways of replacing lost teeth. They can be used to replace one tooth or all of the teeth. They are made of titanium or one of its alloys and have no known harmful side effects. Titanium makes a special bond to bone, which dentists call ‘osseointegration’.
There are two main stages in the implant process. The first is the placement of the implant into the jaw, and the second is the attachment of the replacement tooth to the implant. The replacement tooth may be a crown, a bridge or a denture.
Most studies have shown that implants are successful in around 90 percent of cases. But there are some things that make the outcome potentially less successful and one of the most important of these is smoking. This reduces the success rate by about 11 percent.
Implants can be placed in the elderly but they should not be placed in children.
If a large amount of bone has been lost where the false tooth needs to go (due to a difficult extraction or to normal bone shrinkage), there may not be enough anchorage for an implant. However, there are ways to build up the missing bone.
The placement of implants is a minor procedure so it can be done under local anaesthetic and/or sedation. Most patients say it was as easy if not easier than having a tooth extracted. Any stitches in the gum will be need to be removed a few days later.
Dentists will often prescribe painkillers after the placement of the implants but most patients do not need to take them.
For some implant systems it is necessary to have a second stage of surgery some months later. This is because with these systems the implant is fully buried in the gum during the first operation and needs to be exposed at the second.
They are more expensive than a denture or most other methods of replacing teeth but have these advantages over other treatments:
The teeth will be more secure than with a denture
The fact that no other teeth need to be drilled to support the implant may be more attractive to those considering a bridge.
An implant does not suffer from dental decay. However, unfortunately, you can get gum disease around them. Your dentist or the hygienist will show you how to clean the implant and any of your remaining teeth. The procedures are not difficult or too time consuming.
The cost is higher because the implants are custom shaped, precision made and specially sterilised. They need a lot of planning and preparation before placement. Some of this work is done outside the dental surgery.