Despite improvements in dental care, millions of Americans suffer tooth loss -- mostly due to tooth decay, periodontal disease, or injury. For many years, the only treatment options available for people with missing teeth were bridges and dentures. But, today, dental implants are available.
Dental implants are replacement tooth roots. Implants provide a strong foundation for fixed (permanent) or removable replacement teeth that are made to match your natural teeth.
Success rates of dental implants vary, depending on where in the jaw the implants are placed but, in general, dental implants have a success rate of up to 98%. With proper care (see below), implants can last a lifetime.
In most cases, anyone healthy enough to undergo a routine dental extraction or oral surgery can be considered for a dental implant. Patients should have healthy gums and enough bone to hold the implant. They also must be committed to good oral hygiene and regular dental visits. Heavy smokers, people suffering from uncontrolled chronic disorders -- such as diabetes or heart disease -- or patients who have had radiation therapy to the head/neck area need to be evaluated on an individual basis. If you are considering implants, talk to your dentist to see if they are right for you.
In general, dental implants are not covered by dental insurance at this time. Coverage under your medical plan may be possible, depending on the insurance plan and/or cause of tooth loss. Detailed questions about your individual needs and how they relate to insurance should be discussed with your dentist and insurance provider.
The first step in the dental implant process is the development of an individualized treatment plan. The plan addresses your specific needs and is prepared by a team of professionals who are specially trained and experienced in oral surgery and restorative dentistry. This team approach provides coordinated care based on the implant option that is best for you. Next, the tooth root implant, which is a small post made of titanium, is placed into the bone socket of the missing tooth. As the jawbone heals, it grows around the implanted metal post, anchoring it securely in the jaw. The healing process can take from six to 12 weeks. Once the implant has bonded to the jawbone, a small connector post -- called an abutment -- is attached to the post to securely hold the new tooth. To make the new tooth or teeth, your dentist makes impressions of your teeth, and creates a model of your bite (which captures all of your teeth, their type, and arrangement). The new tooth or teeth is based on this model. A replacement tooth, called a crown, is then attached to the abutment.
Instead of one or more individual crowns, some patients may have attachments placed on the implant that retain and support a removable denture. Your dentist also will match the color of the new teeth to your natural teeth. Because the implant is secured within the jawbone, the replacement teeth look, feel, and function just like your own natural teeth.
Most people who have received dental implants say that there is very little discomfort involved in the procedure. Local anesthesia can be used during the procedure, and most patients report that implants involve less pain than a tooth extraction. After the dental implant, mild soreness can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications, such as Tylenol or Motrin.
Dental implants require the same care as real teeth, including brushing, flossing, rinsing with an antibacterial mouthwash, and regular dental check-ups.