Dental Implants: What are They and are They the right choice?

Dental implants can be a great option to replace a missing or severely damaged tooth or teeth. They restore strength and esthetics and feel and function like a healthy tooth.  Dental implants have been around for a long time but “tooth form” implants (shaped like a root of a tooth) made of titanium were introduced in the 1980’s.  The advantage of the “tooth form” implant is that it is strong, it resembles the size and shape of a tooth root in the bone and it can be restored with a crown that looks like a tooth.  Implants can be used in many situations, as a single tooth replacement with an individual crown, or if a few teeth are missing as a bridge secured to implants or to replace all the teeth with a bridge or denture secured to the implants.

Patients who are missing a tooth or teeth due to decay, fracture or other medical condition may consider implant replacements as an option.  Current denture wearers may consider implants as a way to stabilize a loose denture or to totally replace the removable denture with a secured denture.  Implants are very stable because they fuse to the bone and do not move.

Implant placement is a surgical procedure so patients must be in good general health with healthy gums.  Implants should be placed in adult patients whose jaws are finished growing.  Certain conditions like diabetes, suppressed immunity and leukemia as well as habits like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption may be contraindications to implant surgery.

When a tooth needs to be removed it may be possible to place the implant at the same time, however, most implants cannot be restored with a final restoration until a few months after placement.  During that time the bone is healing around the implant to make it secure.  That means a temporary replacement may be needed to fill in the gap of the missing tooth.  There is one situation where implants can have teeth placed immediately and that is when all the upper and/or lower teeth are replaced with implants at the same time.  This is sometimes referred to as “teeth in a day.”

Implant surgery is usually done in the dental office and may be done with local anesthesia or sedation.  A single implant surgery may take one hour.  After the final restoration is placed there will be a short period of time to get used to the new tooth or teeth.  Speech and chewing feel comfortable in a short time.

Implant failure is often due to poor hygiene. Proper brushing, flossing and regular visits to the dental office for implant maintenance are essential.  Discuss with your dentist the options available to you if tooth replacement is being considered.

Dr. Robert A. Gallegos is a Fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry, visiting faculty of Spear Education, a member the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and the American and Virginia Dental Associations.  Dr. Gallegos practices dentistry in Middleburg, VA.

Dr. Gallegos