People lose teeth all the time, either through trauma (when teeth are knocked out) or due to decay, gum disease or old age. Whatever the reason for losing your teeth, you may wish to have them replaced, either for the way they look, or to help you eat, speak and function. The most common treatments for missing teeth are either a denture, or a fixed bridge. However, dental implants are now becoming a more popular treatment to replace missing teeth as they provide a longer-term solution, slow down bone loss and preserve healthy tooth tissue.
What is a dental implant?
A dental implant is an artificial replacement of your natural tooth, and is anchored into your jaw-bone to support a crown, bridge or secure a denture firmly in place. Implants are made from titanium, a material that is well tolerated by the body and integrates easily with bone tissue. During the placement of a dental implant, the goal is to achieve a close contact between the outer surface of the implant and the surrounding bone tissue so they can “fuse” together (osseointegration), creating a stable support for the new teeth.
How do I know if I am suitable?
Before any implants are placed, it is important for your dentist to assess the health of your teeth and gums. If there are any signs of gum disease or decay, these must first be treated. Thereafter, your treatment will be planned following several x-rays and, in some cases, a CT scan to assess bone quality and quantity. The procedure is usually carried out under local anaesthesia.
How is an implant placed?
The gum where the implant is to be placed is cut and lifted and a small hole is drilled in the jawbone in the precise location of the intended implant. The titanium implant is tightly fitted into this socket and the gum is stitched back over the implant. If there is insufficient bone material to accommodate the implant, a bone graft may be required, or the dentist may use smaller-sized mini implants if suitable.
Once the implant has been placed, it is left to heal and fuse with the jawbone for between six weeks to six months.
During this “healing period”, patients are given temporary teeth (bridges or dentures) so you are not left with a gap. After the healing period, the gum is lifted once more, and a post is attached to the implant with a temporary crown. Four to six weeks later, when the surrounding gum tissue has matured, the final permanent restoration can be fitted to the implant.