All about dental implants

Dental implants — artificial replacements for natural teeth/roots — are an alternative to partial and full dentures or bridges. The implant, working like a tooth, offers more comfort and stability than dentures. Implants can restore the ability to chew food and may improve speech and facial appearance.

What is an implant?

Implants are manufactured "anchors" that resemble cylinders or screws. Used in upper and lower jaws, they are surgically inserted into the jawbone to become a stable base for artificial replacement teeth.

The implant itself acts as the root of the tooth. The crown, bridge or denture placed over the implant will look and perform like the natural tooth that was lost.

How do implants differ from dentures?

Unlike dentures, implants are not removed for overnight soaking and cleaning and need no adhesives.

How are implants placed?

Implant surgery is performed in a dentist's office, in a three-step process:

  1. A dentist surgically places an implant directly into the jawbone, like a natural tooth root. Following this initial surgery, the implant will usually remain covered for three to six months, to allow the bone to develop around the implant to help hold it in place.
  2. Once this waiting period is over, the dentist uncovers the implant and attaches an extension, called a post, to the implant. Several more months often are needed for the gum tissue to heal around the post.
  3. In the third and final step, once healing is completed, the implant can serve as a foundation for the new tooth. The dentist then makes a crown (or other artificial tooth replacement) and attaches it to the implant post.

The entire process could take up to nine months to complete, depending on the patient.

How effective are implants?

The success rate for implants is based on many factors. Implants (depending on their location in the mouth) have reported success rates between 85 and 90 percent. When implants fail, it is usually because of poor oral hygiene. Dentists typically give specific instructions on how to care for dental implants.

How much do implants cost?

Compared to dentures, costs for implants and bridges are higher, but they more closely simulate the appearance and function of natural teeth.

Who can get implants?

The best candidates for implants are those in good general health who have healthy gums and sufficient bone structure. Success of the implant depends on regular dentist visits along with a personal commitment to good oral hygiene.

Implants may be less successful for people who smoke, those who grind or clench teeth and patients with systemic diseases such as diabetes. Check with your dentist to see if implants are the right choice for you.

Information courtesy of the Academy of General Dentistry and the American Dental Association.
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