Generally speaking, adult teeth are supposed to last a lifetime, but things do not always turn out this way. In fact, tooth loss in adults is fairly common. The permanent teeth may become loose, fall out, or require extraction due to any number of factors, including disease and dental neglect.
When you lose one or more teeth, it compromises the integrity of your smile, and may also make it more difficult to chew normally. It is vital to consider your options for tooth replacement, and one of the most popular options is to get dental implants.
What are Dental Implants?
A dental implant is a small titanium rod, which is placed into the jawbone. Over a period of several months, the implant will fuse with the bone. Once fully healed, it becomes steady and secure, allowing it to function as an artificial tooth root.
On top of that dental implant, your oral surgeon will attach a small component known as an abutment, which is a connector piece. On top of that abutment, your general dentist will place a dental restoration. This is often known as a crown, it is custom-made to match the look of your natural teeth, though in some cases it may be a bridge or an overdenture.
What are the Benefits of Dental Implants?
Dental implants are one of the most dependable options for replacing missing or extracted teeth. Here are several factors that make dental implants beneficial:
Dental Implants Look and Behave Like Natural Teeth
Once your dental implants have healed into place, you will receive an artificial replacement tooth that is designed to preserve the natural beauty of your smile. Implants are made to be durable and offer the same strength and chewing power as your natural teeth. Often, a patient who gets a single dental implant has a hard time remembering exactly which tooth is not “real.” In fact, they are so realistic that the dental implant tooth looks like a natural tooth both in shape and color.
Dental Implants Are Long-Lasting
Dental implants have a very high success rate, especially when provided to patients who still have ample bone mass and when the patient practices good oral hygiene. In fact, implants themselves are designed to last a lifetime. The dental prosthesis may need to be replaced after 10 years or so, though consistent brushing, flossing, and dental checkups can extend the lifespan of a dental prosthesis.
Dental Implants Prevent Bone Loss
Your tooth root stimulates the underlying bone. When the root is gone, that stimulation goes with it, which can cause the jawbone to atrophy. Not only does this bone degradation make dental restoration more challenging, but it can also lead to unwanted changes to your facial appearance. Getting dental implants can provide your jawbone with the needed stimulation, helping you prevent these undesirable effects.
Dental Implants Can Help You Avoid Tooth and Gum Disease
There are plenty of reasons why you would not want to go through life with a missing tooth. One reason is that the gap left in your gum line will become a trap for bacteria. As bacteria accumulate, you will experience a heightened risk of disease. Dental implants can help you avoid this.
Who are the Best Candidates for Dental Implants?
Anyone who is missing one or more teeth, or anticipates the need to have teeth extracted, can be a good candidate for dental implants.
Tooth loss can happen for any number of reasons. You may lose teeth due to tooth and gum disease, or just general dental neglect. Additionally, teeth may sometimes become damaged or broken due to a traumatic accident.
No matter the cause of your tooth loss, it is always important to get a replacement tooth, which helps you avoid bone loss and other unwanted side effects. Dental implants can be a good option, particularly for patients who have sufficient bone mass for their dental implants to be anchored.
What Ancillary Procedures Are Required in Order to Get Dental Implants?
Before you can have your dental implants placed, there are other supportive treatments that you may require. Some of the most common examples include:
- Tooth extraction. If you have any remaining teeth that are non-restorable and deemed to be unviable, your dentist or oral surgeon will likely recommend that you have those teeth extracted, then replaced with implants.
- Treatment for gum disease. Before you get dental implants, any remaining periodontal disease will need to be treated. This can often be done with laser therapy or antibiotics. In extreme cases, surgical intervention may be required.
- Bone grafting. You will need sufficient bone tissue in your jaw, or else there will be nowhere to anchor the implants. For patients without enough bone, new bone material can be generated using a procedure called bone grafting.
What is the Process for Getting Dental Implants?
The specific process may vary based on the patient’s needs but generally unfolds something like this:
The first step toward getting dental implants is meeting with an oral surgeon who can verify that you are a good candidate for surgery. During this consultation, your surgeon may assess your jawbone to see whether a bone graft is needed and evaluate your teeth to determine how many need to be extracted.
Preparing for Dental Implants
If you need any teeth extracted or other supportive procedures performed, these additional procedures will be the next step. Some oral surgeons offer what is known as “teeth in a day” to eligible patients, which means they can have their extractions performed on the same day as their implant placement. Other patients will have these procedures done during two separate sessions.
If you are having one or two implants placed, local anesthesia will be administered to avoid discomfort. IV sedation is also available if desired or if the dental implant placement is more complex. Most implant cases take only 20-45 minutes. For some patients, including those who are getting “teeth in a day,” the oral surgeon may place a temporary replacement tooth on top of the implant.
The implants need to fully heal into place before the final prostheses can be placed. This part of the process usually takes a few months. Once the implants have properly healed, the dental restoration is placed by a general dentist.
What is Dental Implant Recovery Like?
You will likely experience some mild discomfort following your dental implant placement. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Bruising of your gums and skin
- Swelling of the gums and face
- Some minor bleeding
- Tenderness or discomfort at the site of the implants
For most patients, the worst of these symptoms take place during the first 24 hours, after which things start to improve considerably. In fact, most patients feel like they are ready to return to work and their other normal activities after just a day or two.
Most of the time, the discomfort from dental implants can be managed with just simple over-the-counter remedies.
What Foods Can I Eat After Dental Implant Surgery?
For a few days after dental implant surgery, it is generally best to stick to a diet of liquids or soft foods. Some examples of what you can eat include:
- Scrambled eggs
- Mashed potatoes
- Mashed bananas
- Room-temperature soups and broths
- Soft bread
To avoid inflammation and discomfort, steer clear of foods that are hot, both in terms of temperature and spice.
Once your dental implants have healed, you will be able to eat like normal. This process typically takes 3-4 months. Implants provide tremendous chewing power, almost matching that of your natural teeth, which means that any lifestyle changes required of you will be minimal. You may wish to steer clear of sticky candies but biting into a juicy steak should be no problem.
Are There Alternatives to Dental Implants?
If you have lost teeth or anticipate the need to have teeth extracted, you will need to think carefully about tooth replacement. Going through life with missing teeth is a bad idea, as it places you in greater risk of bone loss, gum disease, and more.
The most common alternative to dental implants is to get dentures. In some cases, dentures may be better than implants, particularly for elderly patients or patients who have very limited bone left in their jaw.
Most of the time, however, dental implants are the preferable option. Here are several reasons why dental implants are a better option than dentures:
- Dental implants require less hassle. Dentures often need be kept in place using an adhesive, which may need to be reapplied following meals. Implants are much easier to manage.
- Dentures need to be removed for you to clean them. By contrast, when you have dental implants, you can brush and floss your teeth just like normal.
- Dentures may slip out of place. Denture-wearers must be ready for their prostheses to slip out of place while they chew or talk. Dental implants, on the other hand, anchor your teeth securely in place.
- Dentures offer considerably less chewing power. With dental implants, you can eat like normal. Dentures come with significantly more limitations.
- Dentures may not prevent bone loss. Dentures sit on top of the jawbone but do not offer the stimulation needed to avoid bone degradation. As such, denture-wearers may ultimately experience facial collapse.
Are There Any Risks to Dental Implants?
While dental implants are advantageous in several ways, patients should also be familiar with a few risks. Some of the most common dental implant risks include:
- Infection at the site of your implant placement
- Injury or damage to surrounding teeth or blood vessels
- Nerve damage which can cause a tingling sensation in your lips or chin
These risks are uncommon, and even if you do experience them, they can usually be managed very easily.
What Causes Dental Implants to Fail?
Dental implants succeed more than 90 percent of the time. When they fail, it is usually for one of the following reasons:
- There is insufficient blood flow to the implant site
- Serious bacterial infection
- Implants are not given enough time to heal before dental restoration
- General poor health of the patient
Additionally, dental implants may fail over time due to tooth grinding/clenching or because of dental neglect. The best way to avoid implant failure is simply to follow all your oral surgeon’s aftercare instructions. And choosing a qualified oral surgeon is also an important step toward a better implant experience.
Find Out More About Dental Implants
If you live in McLean, VA, or the surrounding area, we welcome you to contact Dr. Timothy Gocke, who has performed more than 10,000 oral surgeries, many of them implant placements. To schedule a consultation with Dr. Gocke, contact our practice today at (703) 388-2805.