If one or more of your teeth are missing, there are a number of ways to replace them. An alternative to bridges, partial or complete dentures may be dental implants. Implants are used to replace missing roots and support artificial replacement teeth. They look, feel and function like your own natural teeth. They can also be used to hold in dentures.
If you are in good general health, have healthy gums and have enough bone in the jaw to hold an implant, dental implants might be right for you. Smoking, diabetes, and radiation therapy to the area lower the success rate of implant surgery. If your jawbone has shrunk or if it has not developed normally, you may be able to have a bone graft to build up the bone. A bone graft is a way of adding new bone to your jawbone. Your dentist or dental specialist will tell you if bone grafting can be done.
During the first stage of surgery, your dentist or specialist will put a dental implant into your jawbone beneath the gum tissue. The gum tissue is then stitched back into place. As the tissue heals, bone will grow onto the implant to anchor it in the jaw. It will take some time to heal. How long depends on the density of bone, the expected load on the implant, and other factors.
During the second stage of surgery and once the tissue is healed, your dentist or specialist will attach an abutment to the implant. An abutment is something that connects the replacement tooth to the implant. In some cases, the first and second stage of implant surgery may be done in one single surgery.
An artificial replacement tooth, the crown, is then made and attached to the abutment. In some cases the abutment and crown are one piece.
Checkups will be scheduled during the following year so your dentist can be sure your implants are working properly.
You will need to take very good care of your implants. As teeth can be lost because of gum disease, implants can also fail over time if they are not cleaned well. Good cleaning at home to remove disease causing bacteria as well as regular professional cleanings is essential. If you have lost your tooth because it cracked or split, controlling these forces is important so that your implant is not damaged by excessive stress. Implants do not have a ligament around them the way teeth do. The ligament provides the brain with feedback on how much force is applied to the tooth and acts as a shock absorber, therefore you can put excessive force on your implant supported tooth without realizing it.
Following the recommended maintenance program is essential to realizing the investment of time and money spent on implants.