A dental implant is a fixture made from a biocompatible material, such as titanium, and inserted into the jaw or skull in order to substitute the root of a missing tooth. Once inserted and the gum and bone have healed, an implant can support a crown, bridge, denture, or another dental prosthesis.
Although dental implants are not the only tooth-replacement option, they are widely considered the premier method because they result in a smile that feels more natural and secure to the patient.
Replacing missing teeth with dental implants is not a luxury but an imperative because:
- A full set of teeth bolsters self-esteem and positive body image.
- Without teeth present to nurture the jawbone, it begins to shrink.
- Implants also help to preserve the shape of your jaw and consequently your face.
- Missing teeth affect which foods you can chew and thus properly digest.
- Your teeth will otherwise shift and alter your bite, which can lead to TMD.
- Lost teeth can alter your speech and make you more difficult to understand.
There are several types of dental implants available:
- Root form
Root form is the most prevalent type of dental implant used by dentists today. These implants are made of titanium and in a shape that resembles a screw. After an implant has been inserted and the gums and bone have healed, the dentist will attach a metal cylinder known as an abutment. The abutment serves as the base for the crown, bridge, denture or whichever dental prosthesis will be used.
Modern dental implants have a very high success rate, and that success relies on a process known as osseointegration. This term refers to the direct connection between the artificial implant and the human bone. When this process works as intended, the jaw accepts the implant and grows around it, and titanium is a popular choice because it is biocompatible and therefore conducive to success.
The fact that titanium is biocompatible and able to fuse with bone was an inadvertent discovery. Swedish physician Per-Ingvar Brånemark did not expect the result when in 1952 he inserted titanium chambers into the bone in order to study how bone healed in the aftermath of an injury. When he attempted to remove the chambers, it was then that he found that the titanium had fused.
This discovery led to a series of research projects by Dr. Brånemark into how titanium implants may be used to repair bone injuries. Approximately 13 years after his initial discovery, the first root-form implants were installed in patients by their dentists. By around 1980, other dental implant types had been developed by various companies specializing in dental techniques and equipment.
A High Rate of Success
According to studies, the success rate of root-form implant surgery is more than 90%. Focusing on surgeries performed in the last decade, some studies estimate that the success rate is more than 97%. Only about 1% of all dental implant surgeries fail on an annual basis, and when they do fail, the problems with the surgery generally manifest within the first 12 months.
While patients may have initially been wary of this new procedure, that changed in the mid-1980s after the American Dental Association endorsed it. In fact, the number of implant procedures performed in the United States tripled between 1986 and 1999. Current estimates suggest that more than 500,000 Americans have dental implants placed on an annual basis.
Dental Implants and the Alternatives
A potential downside to dental implants is that they tend to cost more upfront than other tooth-replacement options, such as bridges and dentures. The average implant plus crown will cost at least $2,000 and can cost as much as $5,000. This all greatly depends on a wide range of factors.
Some insurance companies do cover dental implants but usually enforce annual coverage limits, and you should check with your insurer to determine what your particular policy allows you.
It is important to note that while dental implants generally do cost more upfront, they are an excellent investment that tends to cost less over the life of the patient. In addition, your dentist may be able to work with you to manage the costs. Many patients, for instance, do not require a separate implant for each tooth that is missing.
Potential benefits of dental implants compared to the alternatives include:
- Feel: Implants are embedded in the bone, which makes the crown feel like a natural tooth.
- Nutrition: Implants allow you to chew all the foods you love and need. They also do not cover the palate the way dentures can, which can reduce your sense of taste.
- Convenience: Implants will never click, slip or fall out, and you do not need to use a dental adhesive.
- Self-esteem: Dental implants are a natural extension of you. You will probably not think about them at all and certainly not in the manner that people who wear dentures do.
Consider Dental Implants to Replace Your Missing Teeth
Most dentists agree that dental implants are the superior way to replace missing teeth. There are practical considerations, such as the initial cost and the fact that it may not be covered by insurance. But the long-term investment is superior to other tooth-replacement options. The quality of life is superior too because an implant crown is the closest thing you can get to a real tooth.