If you have lost one or more teeth, you realize that you have several options for replacing that lost tooth: removable dentures, dental bridges, and dental implants. You might have heard that dental implants are the best, but what makes them the best? Simply put, it’s because they are the most like your natural teeth of any tooth replacement. In addition, they have a high degree of success, and even the potential to last a lifetime, when properly cared for.
The Most Tooth-Like Replacement
Of all the tooth replacement options, dental implants are the most like your natural teeth. That’s because the most successful type of implant has a tooth root, which can bond with your jawbone, similar to the way natural teeth do. Of course, implants don’t have a periodontal ligament that bonds cementum to bone. Instead, the artificial root is made of titanium, which bonds directly with the jawbone.
Dental Implants Support Themselves
Other replacement teeth need to be supported by your natural teeth. A removable denture sits on your gums, but has hooks and clasps that go around neighboring teeth for security and support. A dental bridge is supported by dental crowns over neighboring teeth, which provide stability.
But implant dentistry places the titanium root directly in the jawbone, which then bonds with the bone in a process called osseointegration. Once integrated with the bone, the implant is fully fixed, providing good function over the long term.
Dental Implants Support Bone and Gums
One benefit of the implant having a tooth root is that it provides support for the jawbone and gingiva (gum tissue). Where a dental bridge might allow bone loss under it because there’s no tooth root, and removable dentures might actually stimulate bone loss through pressure on the top of the bone, dental implants stimulate bone growth. If you have dental implants, you will maintain jawbone. And the jawbone will support your gums, so you’ll maintain your gum tissue, too.
Dental Implants Can Last a Lifetime
Implants offer longevity matched by few cosmetic dentistry procedures. Clinical studies that are 10, 20, even 30 years long show survival rates for implants over 90%. There is no indication that these studies have reached the effective maximum lifetime for dental implants. In fact, there is no reason to believe that implants can’t last a lifetime.
There are caveats, however. First, implants have a pronounced “wearing in” period when they have to integrate with the jawbone. Failure to integrate with the bone is the leading cause of implant failure, accounting for approximately half of all implant failures.
Second, implants are subject to some of the same perils that face your natural teeth. Implants can get gum disease (it’s called peri-implantitis, rather than periodontitis, but it’s essentially the same condition). Good oral hygiene can help you maintain good oral health and this will protect your implants so they can last you as long as possible.
The Most Functional Tooth Replacement
Dental implants aren’t just structurally like your natural teeth, they are functionally like your natural teeth.
Normal Bite Force
With removable dentures, you experience a considerable loss of bite force. That’s because removable dentures aren’t supported by your bone: they rest on your gums, which means you can’t bite down as hard as you would with your natural teeth. The result is that you will have to alter your eating habits considerably: changing your chewing method and cutting your food into smaller pieces. You may even have to give up some hard-to-chew foods, too.
But with dental implants, bite force can be directed into the bone, which means that you can bite down as hard as you would with natural teeth. You can keep enjoying all the foods you enjoyed with your natural teeth.
No Risk to Natural Teeth
Ideally, replacing one lost tooth wouldn’t put your remaining natural teeth at risk. But that’s what happens with removable dentures and dental bridges.
Removable dentures have clasps and hooks that go over your natural teeth for support. Often, these are metal, and the metal can cause considerable wear on your natural teeth. Even if the support structures are soft, they cause bacteria and food residue to collect on the natural teeth. This can accelerate tooth decay and periodontal disease, which can lead to premature loss of the supporting teeth.
With dental bridges, the potential risk to natural teeth is even greater. Dental bridges are supported by dental crowns placed over natural teeth. To place a dental crown, we have to remove natural tooth structure, often healthy tooth structure. This weakens the supporting teeth, and can make them more susceptible to decay, damage, and even failure. Even worse, the supporting teeth are being asked to bear greater bite forces, which also puts the teeth at risk.
The risk is greatest when a cantilever bridge is used. In this structure, a single tooth is supporting an artificial tooth with no support on the other side. This puts angled stress on the tooth, which can torque and pull the tooth not unlike a “tooth key,” a primitive extraction tool popular among dentists in the nineteenth century.
Dental implants support themselves. Barring an error during the surgical procedure, dental implants pose no risk to your natural teeth.
Applicable in Most Situations
Because of the risks and limits above, dental bridges aren’t a good solution in many tooth loss situations. They should never be used in situations where the bridge will put the supporting teeth at undue risk, either from decay or excessive force. This means that bridges shouldn’t be used any time there aren’t teeth to support them on both sides. And dental bridges are usually limited to three units (two teeth supporting a single tooth replacement) to reduce the risk of failure.
But dental implants can be used in almost any situation. They can be used to replace a single lost tooth, or to replace an entire arch of teeth.
Even in places where you have significant bone loss due to prior gum disease, bone grafting can build up support for the implant, making it a good choice. And medical conditions that we used to believe prevented implant dentistry have been shown to be no significant barrier. This includes:
- Sjogren’s syndrome
While each case must be evaluated individually, studies show that patients with these and many more conditions can actually get very good results with an appropriate treatment plan. In addition, these and other health conditions can affect success rates, so people need to make informed decisions when choosing tooth replacement options. Working with an experienced implant dentist, periodontist, or oral surgeon can help counter these risks to improve the odds of successful dental implants.
Limitations of Dental Implants
While dental implants are definitely the best tooth replacement option, they do have limitations. The limitations of implants might mean that you either can’t or don’t want to get them.
Only Appropriate for Adults
While implants are similar to natural teeth, they’re not identical. The loss of the periodontal ligament and the attachment of an implant directly to the bone means that they don’t respond the way natural teeth do to orthodontics. The same limit keeps them from moving and shifting as the jaw grows and new teeth emerge.
This means that implants are only appropriate for adults whose jaws have finished growing.
Removable dentures and dental bridges don’t require surgery. However, a dental implant is placed during a surgical procedure. Some people might not be healthy enough for surgery. Other people might be uncomfortable or fearful at the thought of implant surgery.
Of course, there is little to fear from dental implant surgery. Complication rates are low, and with the combination of anesthesia during the procedure and pain medications after, people experience little discomfort. But dental anxiety is common, and the fact that it isn’t always rational doesn’t make it any less of an obstacle.
Cost of Dental Implants
One of the biggest limiting factors for implants is their cost. In general, they are more expensive than either treatment alternative. While the benefits of dental implants make them a worthwhile investment, not everyone is capable or prepared of paying the cost of dental implants. Financing, of course, makes this easier than ever, but not everyone is comfortable with the thought of financing their dental care.
Are Dental Implants Right for You?
Are you looking to replace a lost tooth or teeth in Blue Bell, PA? When you look at the options, you will realize that dental implants are the best option available–but are they the best option for you? Please call (610) 272-0828 today for an appointment with implant dentist Dr. Ken Siegel at Dental Excellence of Blue Bell.