Are you considering getting dental implants to improve or restore your smile? It’s a big decision for anyone, so we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to help you make an informed decision. We give you quite a lot of information, but we promise it is worth reading and you will see that it will answer a lot of your questions.
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Keep reading to find out exactly what a tooth implant is and what the implant procedure involves. We will explain the different kinds of implants available for you. Our aim is to provide you with all the information you need to decide whether implants are the most suitable dental solution for you.
What is a tooth implant?
An implant is an artificial tooth root which is surgically inserted into the jawbone. It is used to hold a prosthetic tooth or series of teeth in place. In this way, implants function in a similar way to a natural tooth root.
Many people use the term ‘implant’ to mean the entire replacement tooth, but it actually only refers to the part inserted into the bone. We’ll explain all the different components in just a moment.
Implants may be used in cases where the patient has had an accident or medical condition which has caused them to lose one or more of their teeth. Other people choose to have implants for purely cosmetic reasons. The result is artificial teeth which look, feel and function just like natural teeth.
Who can have implants?
In order to be a good candidate for an implant, the patient should have strong, healthy gums and a jawbone that is capable of supporting the new root.
Patients who have underlying oral health problems like gingivitis or who have experienced bone loss due to a tooth abscess may not be suitable for implant surgery.
However, in many cases it’s possible to carry out a bone graft to strengthen the jawbone before implants are inserted.
One alternative for patients who can’t have conventional implants is mini dental implants. These are similar in structure to their larger counterparts, but have a thinner root about the width of a toothpick. This means that less bone is needed to hold them in place.
If you have been told you can’t have implants because you have suffered jawbone loss or your bone density is too low, mini implants may still be an option.
An added benefit of mini implants is they can usually be fitted in a single visit – no need to wait 3-6 months for the implant to settle.
Types of implant and tooth reconstruction
When it comes to the implant itself, there are two main types.
The first is the endosteal implant. These are inserted directly into the jawbone and hold one or more artificial teeth in place via abutments. They look like small screws, either tapered or cylindrical.
The other is the subperiosteal implant. This implant has a metal base which is fitted under the gum tissue but above or on the jawbone. The artificial teeth are fitted in the same way, to supports which protrude from the gums. This type is less common but is an alternative for patients with a shallow jawbone that won’t support endosteal implants.
Different parts of the implant are made from different materials. The section inserted into your jawbone, called the root, is most commonly made from titanium. This metal is incredibly strong and is biocompatible with your jawbone, meaning there should be no reaction and the bone naturally grows around it over time.
Titanium implants are considered the best dental implants by many dental surgeons, and are used in around 95% of cases. The implants are not made from pure titanium as this is too soft; instead various alloys have been developed.
For people who don’t like the idea of having metal implanted in their bodies, zirconia implants are an alternative option. Although this material contains traces of metal, it is classed as a ceramic.
Titanium implants are more versatile than zirconia, as well as less expensive. Despite this, ceramic implants are gaining popularity in some circles. If you’re unsure which to choose, it’s best to ask your Malo Smile USA dentist for recommendations.
Dentures vs. dental bridges vs. implants
Remembering that an ‘implant’ is simply the artificial root inserted to hold replacement teeth in place, we can now turn our attention to the different types of replacement tooth available.
The terminology can get a little confusing here since one word can refer to different things.
When a single tooth needs to be replaced, the implant will be fitted with an individual crown. This is different to the type of crown used to repair a broken tooth. The non-implant alternative is a bridge which affixes to the two adjacent teeth and fills the gap. The downside of a traditional bridge is it requires healthy teeth to be shaved down.
Where two or more teeth in a row are missing, an implant bridge may be used. Rather than inserting one implant for each tooth, just two implants can be used to support a row of three or four artificial teeth fused together.
If all the teeth in the jaw need to be replaced, denture implants may be the solution. These consist of a full set of plastic or porcelain teeth attached to a gum-colored acrylic base.
Whereas traditional dentures sit on the gum and are affixed with adhesive, implant-retained dentures clip onto fixed abutments and are much sturdier. Denture implants tend to present fewer problems with eating and speech than traditional dentures. There is also no risk of them slipping out of place in the middle of a conversation or a meal.
Another benefit of implants is they can help stabilize the jaw, prevent greater bone loss and maintain the natural shape of the jawline.
Although single-tooth implants and denture implants cost more up-front than conventional alternatives, they can be cheaper in the long run since they are designed to be much longer-lasting.
Full mouth dental implants
Patients who have lost all their teeth may also consider full mouth implants. Unlike implant dentures, these are permanently fixed in place. Many people prefer the idea of having fixed teeth rather than ones they have to remove for cleaning.
All-on-4 requires fewer implants
It’s usually not necessary to insert an individual root for each tooth, since a single implant root is strong enough to support several teeth if it’s placed well.
Solutions such as All-on-4 implants allow a full set of teeth to be placed using just four implants for the lower jaw. The upper jaw requires six, since the bone density is lower. The implants are angled at 30 or 45 degrees to give them a stronger hold. This is a cheaper option than traditional implant technology which would require 8-10 implants in each jaw.