Dental implants: a reliable choice to replace missing teeth

By Dr. Stephanie McGann, DMD FAGD, Columnist,

The earliest dental implants seemed to have been placed by the early Egyptians when they used seashells implanted in the jaw bones to replace missing teeth. The first modern dental implants were placed in 1952.  Dental implants have come a long way since those early implants. No longer is dental implant treatment considered experimental or risky. Dental implants therapy today is safe, reliable and in some cases less expensive than other more conventional methods of replacing missing teeth.

Today missing teeth are frequently replaced with dental implants. A single tooth implant restoration is composed of three parts.  First is the actual implant, an artificial tooth root that is placed in the jaw bone. This device heals firmly into the bone and allows the dentist to attach a tooth to it.  Dental implants are great option for people who have lost a tooth or teeth due to dental disease, an injury, or fracture. In some cases the long term prognosis of a dental implant tooth is better than that of a tooth with conventional root canal treatment.

A bridge is another method to replace a missing tooth. Your dentist will help you decide which treatment is right for you.  Some of the things we consider are the condition of the teeth on either side of the space, if they would benefit from being covered with crowns then a bridge may be a more cost effective option, if they are healthy teeth then the implant will allow the missing tooth to be replaced without working on the adjacent teeth.

It is important to replace missing teeth. The space formed by a missing tooth can cause other teeth to shift and compromise a patient’s bite as well as their smile. Dental implants can replace a tooth so well some patient’s forget they every lost the tooth.

Dental implants can do more than just replace a single tooth without affecting the bordering teeth. They can be used to help anchor a bridge when multiple missing teeth are involved or even eliminate the need for any removable dentures. Dental implants have also been used to anchor full dentures for individuals who want a more secure fit of their prosthesis.

Are implants right for you? The ideal candidate for a dental implant is in good general and oral health. Adequate bone in your jaw is needed to support the implant, and the best candidates have healthy gum tissues that are free of periodontal disease.

Dental implant treatment is often completed in phases. Initial diagnostic records are reviewed to determine if a patient is a good candidate for implant restorations. A patient’s overall health will be reviewed. Factors such as diabetes or uncontrolled periodontal disease may lessen the chances for implant success and will be discussed prior to any procedure.

Once a patient is ready, the implant will be surgically placed. This can be done by an oral surgeon, a periodontist or a specially trained general dentist. In most cases the implant will be allowed to integrate into the bone for a period of weeks or months before any further dental work is attached to it. During the healing phase the implant will be covered with a healing cap or covered completely by gum tissue.  After the healing has occurred there are a number of ways your dentist can restore the missing tooth. The most common treatment procedures require a dental impression so that a qualified dental laboratory can custom fabricate the abutment and crown.  At a subsequent visit the abutment is tightly screwed to the implant and the crown is cemented in place much like any other dental crown.

As you know, regular maintenance is essential to success. Just like natural teeth implant restorations will be cleaned regularly by your hygienist and will require the same careful home care that your own natural teeth require.  If you have questions about replacing missing teeth or want to see if you can trade in your removable appliance for a more permanent option, call your dentist today.

Dr. Stephanie McGann is a resident of the Unionville area and along with her partner, Dr. Marie Scott, operates The Brandywine Smile Center, a family-friendly dental practice in Concordville. She is a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry.

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