The first time I met Jill*, it seemed to me that she had lost her smile. In my business of creating beautiful smiles, this was most heart wrenching. Jill had lost all her teeth to ill habits, poor oral hygiene and gum disease, at a mere age of 36. She was only 42 when she came to my office. In those six years, Jill had gotten dentures but her quality of life had changed dramatically. Not only could she not eat everything she wanted to, but socially, she was embarrassed to smile and lived in constant fear that her dentures would come out of her mouth at an inopportune moment.
After a complete evaluation, I referred Jill to a periodontist, who specializes in the placement of dental implants. The periodontist placed 4 implants in Jill's upper jaw and 2 implants in her lower jaw. After complete healing, I was able to use these implants for support and make stable implant-supported dentures for Jill.
Jack*, on the other hand, was 16 and a very enthusiastic baseball player. He had immaculate oral hygiene and beautiful white, pearly teeth. When he came into my office one Monday morning, he had lost one of his upper front teeth at baseball practice. He was devastated because he thought he needed a denture and was only 16. Again, I referred Jack to a periodontist, who placed an implant in the missing area, and after complete healing I was able to place a functional and esthetic crown on the implant.
For Jill and Jack, dental implants saved the day. So, what are dental implants? A dental implant, in the simplest of terms, is an artificial tooth root that a periodontist places into your jaw to hold a replacement crown, bridge or denture placed by your dentist. This is an ideal permanent solution for anyone who has lost a tooth or teeth due to injury, gum disease, very large decay or any other reason. This holds true whether we are replacing one tooth or several teeth.
The surgery for a dental implant is usually performed by a periodontist or in some cases, by an oral surgeon. This may sometimes take several stages and require anywhere from three to nine months to complete, and sometimes even longer. Most of this time is devoted to the healing and osseointegration of the implant. Osseointegration, where osseo means bony and integration means unite, is the process by which the jaw bone accepts the implant and the implant unites with the bone permanently. This is the most important process for any implant. If there is not enough bone structure, the periodontist might suggest a procedure called bone-grafting, to increase the height of the remaining jaw bone, in order to receive the implant. Once the periodontist deems the implant osseo-integrated, a final restoration is placed by your dentist.
There are also instances where the periodontist may place the implant the same day that the tooth is extracted. And sometimes, a restoration may be placed the same day as the implant is placed instead of waiting for the entire healing period. This is done at the discretion of the periodontist or surgeon and your dentist only after determining if you are a candidate for this same day treatment.
A dental implant is indicated at any age after the growth of the jaw bone is complete. A person in good general health practicing exceptional oral hygiene and who does not have damaging habits, like smoking, is an ideal candidate. A thorough dental examination by the dentist and the periodontist will usually determine if a person is a candidate for dental implants. Make sure to tell your dentist about your complete medical and surgical history along with the list of all the medications you are taking. This goes a long way to determine the success of dental implants in your mouth.
Dental implants have many advantages.
- Dental implants provide very esthetic restorations. They look and feel like your own teeth.
- Unlike for a bridge, there is no need to alter adjacent teeth for dental implants. Hence, they are tooth-saving.
- Dental implants provide stability for restorations. This gives patients confidence to speak and eat without worrying about wobbly dentures and messy denture adhesives. An implant-supported denture is a type of overdenture, just like the one Jill got, that is supported by and attached to implants. This is different from a regular denture which merely rests on the gums.
- The success rate of dental implants is highly predictable. Maintained well, they may last a lifetime. Hence they are very reliable.
Just like your own teeth require superlative care, so do dental implants. Make sure to practice good oral hygiene at home and also visit your dentist regularly for cleaning and dental care. Refrain from damaging habits like smoking, chewing on hard things like ice or hard candy and chewing tobacco. Get the treatment necessary if you have been told by your dentist or have noticed that you grind or clench your teeth.
Modern dentistry has come a long way and dental implants are a big part of the paradigm shift. A month after Jill got her implant-supported dentures, she got married to her sweetheart. Her joyous and beautiful smile enriched all her wedding pictures. She no longer covers her mouth when she speaks, eats or laughs. And thanks to that one front implant, the confidence in Jack's smile shows through in his all-league baseball pictures. These are the healthy joys that we live for!
*Name changed to protect privacy
Sources: American Dental Association, American Association of Periodontology.