Dental implants are one of several ways of replacing lost teeth. They can be used to replace one tooth or all of the teeth. They are made of titanium or one of its alloys and have no known harmful side effects. Titanium makes a special bond to bone, which dentists call ‘osseointegration’.
There are two main stages in the implant process. The first is the placement of the implant into the jaw, and the second is the attachment of the replacement tooth to the implant. The replacement tooth may be a crown, a bridge or a denture.
Most studies have shown that implants are successful in around 90 per cent of cases. Those inserted into the lower jaw are slightly more successful than those in the upper jaw.
There are very few specific illnesses that would prevent the use of implants But there are some things that make the outcome potentially less successful and one of the most important of these is smoking. This reduces the success rate by around 11 per cent.
Implants can be placed in the elderly but they should not be placed in children.
If a large amount of bone has been lost where the false tooth needs to go (due to a difficult extraction or to normal bone shrinkage), there may not be enough anchorage for an implant. However, there are ways to build up the missing bone.
The placement of implants is a minor procedure so it can be done under local anaesthetic and/or sedation. Most patients say it was as easy if not easier than having a tooth extracted. Any stitches in the gum will be need to be removed a few days later.
Dentists will often prescribe painkillers after the placement of the implants but most patients do not need to take them.
For some implant systems it is necessary to have a second stage of surgery some months later. This is because with these systems the implant is fully buried in the gum during the first operation and needs to be exposed at the second.
Obviously if bone is to be built up then the operation becomes more complex and a general anaesthetic may be needed.
For some people the exciting prospect is that dentures can be discarded after implant therapy. Unfortunately, not everyone can move away from dentures completely. If there is a loss of a lot of the jawbone a denture is the only way to achieve a successful result. In this case, the implants act as a secure support for a denture and prevent the embarrassment and pain of it moving during eating and speaking. The appearance is restored with the denture teeth and gums.
They are more expensive than a denture or most other methods of replacing teeth but have these advantages over other treatments:
The cost is higher because the implants are custom shaped, precision made and specially sterilised. They need a lot of planning and preparation before placement. Some of this work is done outside the dental surgery.