You’ve probably heard a lot about dental implants already, if you’re reading this and are curious to learn specifics. This medical advance lets us replace lost teeth (one or many) with a prosthetic that mimics the function of natural teeth–better than any bridge or denture ever could. Dental implants are embedded in the jaw the same way that natural tooth roots are, so they create a false tooth that looks and feels real. Since they fuse with the jaw bone, they provide a permanent replacement for a lost tooth, root to crown.
Who Might Want Dental Implants?
Anyone who has lost one or more teeth might want to get dental implants. The traditional way to replace a single lost tooth is with a dental bridge. This prosthetic uses your adjacent teeth to hold a false tooth to chew with and complete your smile. The problem with bridges, however, is that they rely on multiple teeth for stability. If one of the bridged teeth should fail, no more bridge. A single tooth implant is a better option because it is freestanding and replaces the whole tooth (not just the part you see). It also lasts much longer and helps preserve healthy jawbone mass.
If you’ve lost two-to-three teeth next to each other, you can get an implant bridge to replace them. Patients with widespread tooth loss can get implant-based partial or full denture. These are far more stable and comfortable that traditional dentures, as they act more like natural teeth.
How Soon Can I get An Implant?
With some teeth, you can get an implant as soon as the tooth is lost. If the tooth was a front tooth—an incisor, canine, or premolar with a single root—there is no need for a healing period before the mouth can accept an implant.
Back teeth, however, require a 2-3 month waiting period. Why is this? Teeth with wide or multiple roots leave a larger gap in the gum and bone tissues. The mouth needs to heal and close the gap in order to create the architecture that will hold the implant. Try to put an implant into an open spot, and it won’t have anything there to stabilize it. Not a good idea.
Some patients may need to wait through a longer period of time (6 months) if there was damage to the structural tissues due to infection. If your tooth was lost as the result of severe decay, there’s a chance you might have damage to the bone that supported the tooth. If this is the case, you will most likely need bone grafting and a lengthy healing period to make sure you have enough healthy bone mass before you can get your implant.
Candidacy for Dental Implants
Most patients who are in a generally good state of oral and overall health can be good candidates for dental implants. During your implant consultation, you will be asked about your medical history, so it’s important to share any prior or present medical conditions. Take the time to be very thorough with this; don’t pick and choose what you think may be relevant. Tell us everything and let the doctor decide what may be relevant. An allergic reaction you had in third grade may have some bearing on how well your body will accept an implant, and can help us choose which type of implant to use.
Medical conditions should always be disclosed in the beginning. Certain conditions, especially systemic illnesses, can affect how well your body heals from surgery and accepts the implants. Diabetes and auto-immune disorders, for example, can affect how well your body regenerates new tissues, which is a critical factor in a successful implant procedure. Medical conditions don’t always preclude your candidacy for implants, but they can help us understand and predict any potential complications and try to prevent them.
One of the most crucial prerequisites for dental implants is healthy bone and gum tissue. Not only can gum disease lead you to lose your teeth, it can also make it harder for you to qualify as a candidate for implants. If gum disease is severe, it can affect an implant the same way it affects a tooth—by making it less stable and more vulnerable to infection (and more likely to fail). When appropriately placed, implants have a very high success rate of 98-99 percent. They do fail, however, if conditions aren’t right or if the patient’s oral hygiene is lax.
Patients with severe gum disease may need to have an advanced course of periodontal interventions before considering implants. This may include flap surgery, gum grafting and/or connective tissue grafting. If any bone loss has been sustained, you may need to have bone grafts to build up bone mass at the future implant site. While bone grafting can sometimes be done during implant surgery, it’s often the case that you must have the bone grafting well in advance, so your doctor can observe and assess how well your body responds to the procedure.
Gum and bone grafting are not always a guarantee your oral health will improve enough for you to get implants, but these restorative treatments are often successful when a patient is committed to meticulous attention to oral hygiene and good overall health.
Getting the implant into your jaw can be a bit graphic. Many people don’t like to think about holes being drilled into one’s jawbone, so feel free to skip this section if you’d rather not know how it works.
To get into your jaw, your doctor will have to cut through the gum tissues and drill a hole into the site of your implant. This hole must be at precisely the right width and depth to accept the implant base (screw) without leaving any wiggle room. This involves a series of graduated drill bits and a procedure that is slow and steady. If the drill generates too much heat this can damage bone tissue, so your implant dentist needs to have extensive background in safe implant placement.
The really cool part about implant surgery today is that doctors can use 3D computer imaging to make the surgical process nearly fool-proof. By using CBCT scans, we can create a virtual model of your jaw, with accurate depictions of all the hard and soft tissues at your implant site. This model can help make sure the implant goes to the right depth and placement for the greatest structural integrity and acceptance into your jaw. Doctors also create 3D printed guides for surgery that ensure the drilling is done at precisely the right angle and depth.
Healing and Osseointegration
After an implant placement surgery, patients must usually wait through a long healing period called osseointegration. The oral tissues that were cut for surgery usually heal in about a week or two, so there isn’t much post-surgical pain to speak of. You won’t be able to feel the implants in your jaw, and they shouldn’t hurt.
During the three months or so after your surgery, your body needs to grow new bone tissue over the implants. Our bones may seem “final” (like teeth) but the truth is that bones are living tissues. Our bodies are constantly in the process of building new bone and breaking down old bone. In the 3-6 months after surgery, new bone tissue will grow between the ridges of the implant to make it a permanent part of your jaw bone. If you try to use the implant before it is fully osseo-integrated, this may weaken the connection and make it too loose to hold a tooth or other prosthetic.
When Your Implant is Ready to Use
Once your dentist determines your implant to be fully integrated with the jawbone, you’ll need a procedure called abutment placement. Up until this point, the gum tissue is closed and has healed over the implant. In order to attach a dental crown, there must first be a hole in the gums.
Your dentist will open the gum tissue and attach an abutment to the top of the implant, so your gums can heal around it. Once the gum tissue is healed, an impression can be taken and your new tooth can be crafted. It usually takes about two weeks to heal from abutment placement, and then it make take a few more weeks to get the final prosthetic tooth made.
Call Docklands Dental Studio to Learn More
To learn more about how the dental implants process works, make an appointment at Docklands Dental Studio. Call our office at 0488-799-487 to make an appointment. We love to help patients get new, better teeth to replace those that have failed or been lost to accidents. Call us today!
Our dental practice is within a 30 minute commute from North Melbourne or West Melbourne. Take the bus or tram into the city, then hop on Tram Number 11 or 48 from Collins Street towards Docklands; get off at Collins Landing (Stop D17).
Also published on Medium.