New Generation of Dental Implants Look and Feel Like Natural Teeth
Do you remember the first time you spotted your grandmother’s dentures soaking in a glass of Efferdent? Or the last time you spotted her discreetly slipping them out of her purse before dinner?
Say “dentures” and our minds dart to one of those two memories—even if we didn’t have a grandmother who wore dentures. Unfortunately, they’re also the thoughts we archived under “teeth replacement.”
But, a lot’s changed since Grandma was fit for her last pair of dentures. Dental implants, increasingly, are becoming the more popular choice for teeth replacement because they look and feel like natural teeth. They’re stable enough to let you eat pretty much whatever you want. And, just as importantly, no one will ever notice the difference—including you.
Better still, dental implants are a permanent solution. With dentures, the bone that previously surrounded the tooth starts to recede, which requires a vigilant maintenance regimen. Implants, on the other hand, integrate with the jawbone, helping to keep it healthy and intact.
I’ve performed over 8,000 implant procedures, and, over that period, I’ve watched my patients’ quality of life grow in direct correlation to the constant evolution of dental implants. These aren’t your grandmother’s dentures. But they’re also not even your parents’ implants.
What is a dental implant?
By now, you’re probably wondering what a dental implant is, exactly. Basically, it’s an artificial tooth root that’s placed into your jaw to hold a replacement tooth or bridge. They can be used to replace anywhere from a single tooth to all of your teeth.
The most common kind of dental implants take the form of screws, cylinders, or blades that are surgically placed into the jawbone, and each holds one or more prosthetic teeth.
Are you a candidate for dental implants?
Implants can be used to replace teeth as a result of almost any instance—injury, periodontal disease. But the ideal candidate is in good general and oral health. You have sufficient bone in your jaw to support the implant and healthy gum tissues.
Dental implants are intimately connected with the gum tissues and underlying bone in the mouth, which make them critical components. But there are ways to remedy shortcomings with both. (Keep reading.) A periodontist specializes in these areas and also has the unique education and training to ensure that your dental implants look and feel like your own teeth. So, while your dentist may recommend the implants, they’ll ultimately refer you to a periodontist for a Comprehensive Periodontal Evaluation and the procedure.
What’s the procedure like?
Prior to your initial consultation with your periodontist, your periodontist and dentist will consult to determine where and how the implant should be placed. Depending on your condition and the kind of implant, your periodontist will then tailor a treatment plan to your needs.
Whether you’re replacing a single tooth, several teeth, or all of your teeth, the procedure largely follows the same steps:
The implant, which looks like a screw or cylinder, is placed into your jaw. Today’s implants are predominantly made of titanium, a metal that’s bio-compatible and especially strong and durable. It also has the unique ability to fuse directly to the bone. It’s then given two to six months to bond with the bone, during which time a temporary tooth replacement can be worn over the implant site. After that time, it’s usually necessary to uncover the implant and attach an extension. Your gums will be given a couple weeks to heal before the final step, when the permanent replacement tooth, called a crown, is attached to a small metal post called an abutment.
I mentioned that sufficient bone in your jaw is a critical component. The upper back jaw has traditionally been one of the most difficult areas to successfully place dental implants because of a lack of quality jawbone and the close proximity of the sinus. A procedure called a sinus lift can be performed ahead of the implant procedure to raise the sinus floor—the sinus gradually enlarges with age—creating more space to place a bone graft and form a new foundation for the implants.
With a ridge augmentation, the gum is lifted away from the jaw ridge to expose a deformity in the upper or lower jaw that’s left you with too little bone to place the dental implants. The defect’s then filled with bone or a graft material to build up the ridge and create a suitable foundation.
What can I expect after the dental implants are placed?
Your periodontist will work with both you and your dentist to develop a care plan. Periodic follow-ups will be scheduled to monitor your implant, teeth, and gums to ensure everything remains healthy.
The implants may take a couple days to get used to, but after a few meals and enough smiling in front of mirror, you’ll forget they’re even there. They’re not an excuse, however, to start skimping on your oral healthcare routine. Just like your natural teeth, your implants need to be kept clean and plaque-free, so brushing and flossing is still imperative.
You won’t, however, need to keep a box of Efferdent in medicine cabinet. And, with any luck, your kids and grandkids will never see you trying to discreetly pop a set of dentures into your mouth before a holiday dinner.