Breast implants, cheek implants, chin implants – they all sound more glamorous than dental implants.
And they should.
A dental implant does a great job of filling the gaping hole in your smile. But it also serves a valuable purpose in your overall dental health.
Not only that, but they look better and preserve adjacent teeth. And dental implants last longer than alternatives.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
After all, we’re here to answer the question, “How do dental implants work.”
Dental Implant History
For the longest time, there was only one way to replace a single tooth. Didn’t matter if it decayed or got knocked out. This method is a bridge.
After removing the remnants of the decayed or missing tooth, a dentist grinds down the adjacent teeth. Then crowns are placed over the adjacent teeth with artificial teeth replacing the missing ones.
Swedish physician, Per-Ingvar Branemark, placed titanium repair screws in bone. When he tried to remove them, he noticed new bone had grown around them.
A few years later, the dental implant was born.
How Do Dental Implants Work – The Basics
General dentists usually install dental implants. They often work with a periodontist, oral surgeon, and prosthodontist during the process.
During the initial consult, your dentist takes an impression of the missing tooth and surrounding bone and gum tissue. If there’s enough healthy bone surface, oral surgery is scheduled to install the screw which acts as the new root.
Sometimes there isn’t sufficient bone surface to install the screw (also called an anchor or post). When this happens, additional bone is grafted in. Once healed, the post is installed.
It takes up to several months for the bone to unite with the post. Once ready, an abutment is installed. This serves as the mount for the new tooth.
Cutting open the gum, to place the abutment is part of the procedure. As a result, several weeks of healing follow.
Once healed, your dentist takes another mold of the gap to send to the prosthodontist. The prosthodontist creates a properly-sized crown.
The final step is installing the crown to the abutment and ensuring a good fit and color match.
Sounds like a lot of steps so there must be good reasons to choose a dental implant over a bridge.
Why Should You Get an Implant?
To give this question it’s due, we need to break it down into two parts. First, why replace a missing tooth at all?
What Happens When You Lose a Tooth?
You may be thinking, “I’m not into looks so why should I care about the gap in my teeth?” Well…there’s more to it than looks.
The jawbone where the tooth was needs stimulation to remain healthy. With the tooth gone, it no longer gets stimulated and starts to deteriorate. When this happens, the teeth on both sides shift to fill the empty space.
The tooth above the missing one also starts coming loose. This happens because it’s no longer held in place when your mouth is closed, or when you’re chewing food.
The shift in your bite, caused by teeth moving, can cause chewing and speaking problems. People with missing teeth often stop eating foods that are hard to chew.
In many cases, these are healthier foods – like fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Often, nutrition problems result.
You may not mind a little hole in your smile but what happens when other teeth fall out because the first one wasn’t replaced? Jawbone decay, resulting from multiple missing teeth, can make one side of your face appear sunken in.
This makes you look years older. Starting to care about that gap now?
Dental Implant vs. Bridge
The other part of the question is why choose an implant over a bridge?
Bridges have long been an effective treatment for missing teeth and are still used today. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of dental bridges.
- Bridges cost less than implants and are usually covered by insurance.
- Bridges are less invasive because they don’t attach to the jawbone. This means no surgery.
- Bridge installation is quick. In most cases, it takes only 2 dental visits.
- Bridges don’t fix underlying issues. A bridge doesn’t resolve issues with existing bone loss from missing teeth.
- Neighboring healthy teeth are damaged to accommodate the crowns that support the bridge. The filing and reshaping needed sometimes do structural damage.
- Bridges only last between 5-10 years because of the added stress placed on the crowned teeth.
- Bridges need additional cleaning. Brushing and flossing under the artificial tooth is vital. A floss threader is often needed to get under the replacement tooth.
Dental implants are becoming more popular for single and multiple tooth replacements. It’s not hard to see why. Below are some advantages and disadvantages of dental implants.
- Implants look like natural teeth. In the mirror, you can’t tell the difference. Even the color is the same.
- Regular brushing and flossing are all that’s needed to keep your implant clean and gums healthy.
- Neighboring teeth remain unharmed and are better supported by the implant.
- Implants last longer than bridges. Dental implants generally last 15 years to life, depending on the quality.
- Implants cost more than bridges. And sometimes they’re not covered by insurance.
- Implant installation takes longer. There are more dental visits and the process takes up to 6 months from start to finish.
- Anchor placement is oral surgery but is usually performed at the dentist’s office. This happens under oral sedation and local anesthesia.
Making the Right Choice
One thing is certain – you can’t leave that open space in your smile for too long without undesirable consequences.
A missing tooth is more than an eyesore. It can grow from a dental problem into a health problem before you know it.
A dental implant is a long-term solution that offers more and better benefits than a bridge. It looks like your tooth. It cleans like your tooth. It protects the teeth around it as a healthy tooth should.
Now we’ve answered the question, “How do dental implants work?” The rest is up to you.
If you’re concerned about your smile for reasons other than a missing tooth, consider a smile makeover.