Dental Implants Basics
What exactly are dental implants? Very simply put, dental implants replace the roots of teeth. They act as an anchor for crowns, bridges, dentures, or partials. They come in different lengths and widths in order to fit each individual’s jawbone size.
How are implants placed?
First, the surgeon administers a local anesthetic. If you have had a filling or other dental work, you will be familiar with the concept of “numbing.” Next, the doctor makes an incision in the gum tissue on top of the area of the missing tooth. After the gum is pushed back, the surgeon prepares the bone by using a series of special drills that correspond to the size of the implant to be placed. Next, the doctor seats the implant and secures the gum tissue around the head of the implant with sutures. To complete the procedure, a healing or protective cap is placed over the top of the implant. This cap keeps food material from packing into the implant and also provides the gum tissue a platform on which to begin healing and shaping so it will match well with the surrounding tissue. Like implants, the healing caps come in different shapes and sizes to accommodate the height and thickness of a patient’s gum tissue.
How long does it take for dental implants to heal?
Depending on the type of bone and a patient’s situation, healing can take a few weeks to several months. Typical healing time is three to four months, but improved implant surface technology has reduced this time frame in many cases. Several factors will affect the speed with which a patient can put a new implant to use, such as the patient’s health, density of the bone and if bone grafting was performed, location of the implant, and chewing function.
You may wonder why dental implants are becoming more popular. One of the biggest reasons is that dental implants give patients a permanent, more natural option for replacing missing teeth instead of using an artificial bridge.
Bridge versus implant
You may be very confused at this point. Bridge? Implant? How is one to choose? Rest assured the answer to your question lies in your hands. First, let’s discuss the definition of a dental bridge.
Just like a road bridge over a river “bridges the gap” from one side of the river to the other, a dental bridge “bridges the gap” created by one or more missing teeth. A bridge is made up of two crowns for the teeth on either side of the gap—these two anchoring teeth are called abutment teeth—and a false tooth/teeth in between. The false teeth are called pontics and can be made from gold, alloys, porcelain, or a combination of these materials. While this has provided a good restoration in the past, dentists are now shying away from recommending a bridge. Why? The main reason is that with the success rate of dental implants, there is now NO REASON to cut down perfectly good teeth! (Placing crowns requires the dentist to grind down the natural tooth.)
Patients with existing bridgework who get dental implants love the fact that they can clean and floss in between their teeth (implants) versus having to clean under the bridge. Food can pack under the bridge pontic, which can cause irritation and even decay under the bridge.