Dental Implants: Everything You Need to Know

Dental implants are posts that dentists insert into or on the jaw to mount a replacement tooth or bridge. There are two types of dental implants: endosteal that are placed in the bone and subperiosteal, which are placed on the bone. The visible part, called a crown, shows the coloration of typical wear and tear to match the rest of your teeth. The bottom half, however, is metallic. It is made out of titanium, which has a property deemed osseointegration, meaning it fuses with bone. The material is biocompatible, and the body will not reject the titanium as a foreign substance. Over time, your jaw bone will naturally join with the implant to create a secure hold that allows you to eat and talk as if the implant was natural.

dental implant, dentistDental implants require regular trips to the dentist for checkups.

Reasons to get a Dental Implant

People get dental implants for many reasons. They may have missing teeth or experienced bone loss that causes damage to a smile. The implant looks like a screw on the half that is implanted, where the new tooth attached to the jaw, and appears like a regular tooth on the gum line.

The Implant Process

To insert these crowns, dentists perform oral surgery with the help of local anesthesia. Most patients undergo a three-step process: replacing the tooth root with the implant, checking for integration and connecting a post or abutment, and finally adding the prosthetic tooth or teeth once the gums are healed.

Some dentists prefer to screw the crown onto the implant, while others use cement. This may also depend on how many crowns you receive. If you replace three teeth in a row, your dentist may choose to drill the outer and inner implants and then fuse the middle crown to the other two, avoiding a third implant. This custom bridge can address issues like bone loss and teeth that have been knocked out or removed due to decay.

The Benefits of Implants

Dental implants are not just a cosmetic fix, although they may make you feel more confident. Having crowns can also improve your quality of life. Many individuals who had dentures find these removable dental tools are too temporary and make eating difficult. Getting dental implants offers a much more permanent solution that doesn't require repeated maintenance or reattachment.

Some people with chronic diseases like leukemia or other cancers may get dental implants because of bone density loss. Chemotherapy and other cancer medications can greatly affect your teeth, making them porous and brittle. These patients might get implants to return their dental health to normal after undergoing intense treatments. People with diabetes may also experience oral problems like gum or bone infections and require dental surgery and implants to have a healthy set of teeth.

Success Rates of Dental Implants
In many cases, a dentist works with a patient to decide a dental implant is the best route of treatment only after a root canal is considered. Root canals remove tooth decay or damage to the root of the affected tooth. Dentists fill the remaining hole or opening with gutta-percha, a material that prevents infection until the tooth can be rebuilt with a post between the root and crown. A dentist may decide that a tooth or root is too damaged to withstand a root canal, and a dental implant is needed. 

Dental Implant Infection
Infections may cause your body to reject an implant, resulting in implant failure. If a patient has an infected tooth next to the implant, an infected socket under the implant or periodontitis, his or her implant may lead to infection, which can worsen the health of the gums and even cause bone infection in the jaw or nearby teeth. Occasionally, bacteria contaminates implants and can cause chronic infection by affecting the microflora that are naturally found in the mouth. Therapy before and after the implant surgery can reduce bacterial contamination and improve the implants likelihood of success. 

Age shouldn't affect implant success.

Risk Factors of Dental Implants
Your age at the time of an implant is thought to not be a factor in your implants' success. Dentists will perform implant surgery on only patients who are healthy enough to undergo the procedure and recover. There are, however, two habits that may increase the likelihood of implant failure: smoking and chewing on hard objects. Smoking may lead to gum disease, and the weakening of this vital tissue can affect how your implant heals. Chewing hard objects like ice or pen caps may damage an implant or crown and lead to longer recovery time or even the need for a replacement implant. Implants that are loaded, or crowned, too soon after insertion are another potential cause of implant failure. Your dentist will determine when is the best time to cap off an implant based on your healing status. If an implant falls out, is loose or becomes infected it may be failing and require immediate attention.

The Healing Process

It is likely your dentist will tell you to eat only soft, easy-to-chew foods for a while after you have an implant procedure. Sharp items like tortilla chips or ice cubes can disturb the gums around your new implant, causing bleeding and infection. Softer foods are easier to eat without disrupting the healing process of the implant. Plus, you may find the area around the implant is sore or tender after the surgery and eating foods that are easy to chew causes the least discomfort.

Dental Implant Pain 
It is natural to experience pain immediately following a dental implant surgery. Your dentist will provide pain medication to address this issue for the first few days following the procedure. You may find the gums around your implant and potentially your cheeks are slightly swollen and hurt when touched. They may be bruised, and you might have some minor bleeding in the area around the implant. This is natural and not something to worry about. The pain should subside within 10-14 days. To prevent infection and reduce swelling, your dentist may recommend you perform a saltwater gargle after eating to remove any food particles from your implant. Avoid touching the area with a toothbrush until your dentist says it's OK.

Who is a Good Candidate?

Age is not a major factor in whether a person can receive an implant. Children who have not yet undergone the growth of their second, or grown-up set, of teeth are not eligible, as the tooth in question will fall out soon. Older individuals may have a slightly slower healing time because of older immune systems and bodily functions, but if they can tolerate the anesthesia, they may receive implants. To have implant surgery, your jaw bone must be healthy enough to withstand the implantation process and remain solid with the crown intact. 

Caring for Dental Implants 

Treat your implants like teeth. They require daily brushing and flossing, as well as annual dental exams. If you receive treatment from a dentist who did not perform your implant surgery, be sure to note which teeth are crowns.

Treat dental implants like regular teeth.

The professional will need to clean and address these teeth differently than your natural ones because of the intensity of the tools and makeup of the tooth material. A dentist will make sure your crowns are properly in place and in good condition so your mouth is functioning as it should. If you ever have concerns about crown damage or unnecessary pain in the tooth or jaw area around a dental implant, be sure to contact your dentist right away.

Dental Insurance and Implants

If you have dental insurance, you may be covered for an implant surgery. Many providers have a limit on how much insurance money can go toward implant procedures each year, so call your insurance company to learn how much the surgery will cost and the amount that you will have to pay out of pocket.