What are dental implants?
Dental implants have been used to replace missing teeth since the mid-1960s, but in recent years their use has become much more widespread. They can be used to support crowns replacing single missing teeth, bridges that restore a larger span of missing teeth, or even dentures. Implants are manufactured from titanium, a metal that is known to be compatible with body tissues and able to bond with adjacent bone during healing. There is a now a wealth of evidence from studies and from clinical experience to show that dental implants are a safe and convenient way to replace lost teeth with natural-looking results.
Dental implants have a number of important advantages over conventional crowns, bridges and dentures:
A dental implant is essentially a titanium screw or cylinder, between 8 and 16 mm long, which is inserted into a prepared bony socket in the jaw and acts as a replacement root for the missing tooth. A special attachment called the abutment, which is fitted to the top of the implant, forms the external connection for the new replacement tooth (crown) or teeth (bridge or denture).
During healing, the titanium surface of the implant fuses with the surrounding bone, in a process known as osseointegration, which can take about 3-6 months. After this time, the implant is stable enough to support one or more false teeth.
Dental implants are suitable for almost anyone who has lost one or more teeth and would like to restore their appearance or chewing ability; however, as it is important that the patient’s bone tissue is fully developed, they are not used in young people younger than 18 years of age.
To be considered for implants, your mouth must be in a healthy condition, with no untreated tooth decay or active periodontal (gum) disease. If implants are fitted in the presence of active periodontitis, there is a danger that an infection will develop around the implant, which will lead to its failure and loss. Your dentist will need to be sure that your oral hygiene is of a high standard before treatment is offered, because the long-term success of implants depends on good plaque control. After treatment is completed, you need to be willing to attend regular follow-up appointments with your dentist or periodontist, so that he or she can assess the implants and take steps to prevent any complications at an early stage.
If you meet all the criteria for implants above, your periodontist will be happy to discuss the various treatment options that are available, which will depend on many factors individual to you, such as your general health, the number and position of missing teeth, and the quantity and quality of your bone tissue.
Implant therapy may not be possible if the jaw bone is not sufficiently thick to accommodate implants and bone grafting is not possible. Also, implants are not suitable for patients with untreated periodontitis or uncontrolled diabetes, because of the risk of failure through infection or poor healing.
Other medical conditions that rule out the use of implants include blood clotting disorders; certain bone diseases, deficiencies in the immune system, severe systemic illnesses and drug abuse. Smoking is also an important consideration, because smokers heal less efficiently than non-smokers and are more likely to experience loosening of their implants. Quitting smoking will significantly increase your chances of successful implant therapy.
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