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A Guide to Dental Implants

Dental implants are a popular choice for patients who have missing teeth, often as a result of an accident or injury. Patients who have to wear dentures or a bridge are also suitable for dental implants.

An implant is a thin, metal rod, often made from titanium which acts an artificial tooth root and forms an attachment for a replacement tooth.

Implants are strong, long lasting and indistinguishable from natural teeth. They look and behave in exactly the same way as ‘real teeth’ and can hold a single tooth or several via an overdenture or bridge.

They do require the same amount of care and attention as natural teeth. This means daily brushing and flossing plus regular checks up with the dentist.

‘Can I have an implant?’ ‘How much do they cost?’ and ‘How long does the treatment take?’ These are just some of the more commonly asked question about dental implants.

What is a ‘dental implant’?

A dental implant is an artificial replacement for the root part of a tooth. An implant takes the form of a small metal post which is screw or cylinder shaped and is usually made of titanium.

Titanium is the most popular material used as this works well with living bone and tissue with living bone and tissue, without any risk of rejection or inflammation.

Other materials can be used which include titanium alloy, stainless steel and zirconium.

The implant is inserted into your jawbone and allowed time to fuse with the bone in a process called ‘osseointegration’. Once this has happened, a replacement tooth called a restoration can be fitted to it via a small attachment.

Implants can be placed in either your upper or lower jaw and can hold several teeth in place at once.

An implant is seen as a prosthetic replacement for the problem of missing teeth although it also falls into the cosmetic dentistry category.

There are two types of implant:

  • Endosteal (‘Root Form’)
  • Subperiosteal

The subperiosteal implant usually takes the form of a metal framework which is placed onto the jawbone just underneath the gums. This framework has small metal posts which protrude through the gums. These enable the attachment of replacement teeth. This type of implant is less commonly used.

The ‘Root Form’ implant is the most popular type of implant and is inserted into the jawbone.

Most patients are suitable for a dental implant although there are exceptions. Mini dental implants are a good choice for those patients who for a variety of reasons are unable to have the conventional type of implant.

Am I suitable for a dental implant?

Your suitability for a dental implant will be decided by your dentist. He or she will ask you about your lifestyle as well as your reasons for an implant.

The dentist will check your teeth and carry out other diagnostics such as an x-ray and/or CAT scan. This will enable him/her to assess the condition of your teeth and more importantly, your jaw.

The reason for this is that you need to have enough bone density to hold an implant in place. Bone loss tends to happen when a missing tooth is not replaced or as result of the ageing process. If this is the case you will require a bone graft to build up your thin jawbone.

If you teeth are in poor condition or you are suffering from gum disease (periodontal disease), bad breath or an abscess then these will have to be treated before implant treatment.

Other possible exclusions include:

  • Smoking: if you are a heavy smoker then your dentist will advise you to put this on hold or stop altogether. The reason for this is that smoking slows the healing process.
  • Alcohol: the same applies here. Excessive alcohol intake can affect the healing of the gums.
  • Bruxism: also known as ‘teeth grinding’. If you have a tendency to grind your teeth (usually caused by stress) then your dentist will give you a ‘splint’ which can be worn at night. This will prevent further damage to your teeth.
  • Auto-immune diseases: if you are suffering from a disease of the immune system or are undergoing chemotherapy then your dentist may advise against implant treatment.
  • Pregnancy or breastfeeding
  • Diabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Under 19: dentists do not usually treat patients who are under 19. They prefer to wait until the jawbone has fully grown before considering an implant.

Basically, if you are healthy and are prepared to follow a dental hygiene routine then you will be considered for an implant.

Is dental implants likely to hurt?

The procedure itself is painless although you may experience some pain or discomfort afterwards. You will be given a local anaesthetic to help numb the area and this will take a few hours to wear off.

You will find that your gums are tender and swollen, and that your jaw aches but painkillers can help to ease this. Any discomfort will ease in the first week following your treatment.

What are the benefits of a dental implant?

Firstly, there is a very high success rate with dental implants, which is currently around 90 to 95%, on average. These figures do vary according to which part of the mouth is being treated. The upper jaw is more difficult to treat than the lower jaw and so this is reflected in the success rates.

Firstly, there is a very high success rate with dental implants, which is currently around 90 to 95%, on average. These figures do vary according to which part of the mouth is being treated. The upper jaw is more difficult to treat than the lower jaw and so this is reflected in the success rates.

The back part of the mouth – both upper and lower jaw has the lowest success rate, coming in at 85 to 95% but this is still high.

Conversely, the front section of the lower jaw enjoys the highest success rate of all, at 98%.

Other benefits include:

Reduces the risk of bone loss

Function as well as natural teeth

Easy to clean - just like natural teeth

Do not alter your natural tooth structure

Fit in well with your natural teeth

Another advantage is that they don’t move around or are ill-fitting as compared to dentures. Dentures are a popular replacement for natural teeth but some people do find them awkward or difficult to get used to. In those cases, an implant can be a better option.

What are the risks of a dental implant?

Dental implants are both safe and effective and enjoy a high success rate. The vast majority of patients are happy with the results.

But, like any dental procedure, there are a few risks although these tend to be rare.

Risks/side effects include:

  • Implant failure
  • Infection
  • Inflammation
  • Fractured or broken implants
  • Poor positioning
  • Overloading (too much force)
  • Damaged sinus tissue

If you notice any of these problems then contact your dentist immediately.

What do I need to do after the dental implant procedure?

It’s a good idea to arrange for someone to drive you home afterwards. Even though you will have had a local anaesthetic you may feel tired or a bit sore once this starts to wear off and so driving is not recommended.

An ice pack applied to the swollen area can help. Your dentist will recommend that you take painkillers to ease any pain or discomfort during the period after treatment.

Avoid tea, coffee, spicy meals and alcohol for 48 hours following this treatment.

Your dentist will advise you as to what routine to follow after this procedure.

How long do dental implants last for?

The answer is a long time! They can last from 15 to 20 years although some have lasted longer than this. If you follow your dentist’s instructions and clean and care for your implants you’re your implants can last for a lifetime.

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