Permanent adult teeth can be lost for a number of reasons. The most common is due to advanced gum disease, or periodontitis, when bacteria get below the gum line and attack the roots and underlying bone.
Accidents account for a fair number of lost teeth, and sometimes teeth have to be extracted to make a mouth healthier.
When one or more teeth are missing, you have a choice of permanent replacement options; a dental bridge or dental implants.
Traditional dental bridges consist of two parts: the abutments and the pontics. Abutments are dental crowns that fit over neighboring teeth. To fit the crowns, the enamel on the existing teeth has to be reduced. Pontics are the “replacement” teeth that actually fill the gaps left by missing teeth. The abutments and the pontics are created as one unit, which is the bridge.
Permanent dental bridges are a very good option for many people. They’re made to look and function like your natural teeth. Like any dental restoration, they have a limited lifespan and will probably need to be repaired or replaced over time. By some estimates, dental bridges will last between 5 and 15 years, with 10 years being the average.
However, the lifespan of a bridge depends heavily on maintaining good oral hygiene and getting regular checkups. Bridges demand a different flossing technique than natural teeth. Failure is usually due to decay in the neighboring teeth that anchor the bridge. And since the bridge is supported by neighboring teeth, much of the bite pressure on the bridge is transferred to those teeth. Putting too much pressure on the crowns can crack or even break them and require repair or replacement. And the bridge itself may fail under pressure and need to be replaced.
Dental implants are another option for many people who are missing one or more teeth.
Dental implants have two parts: the implant itself, and the restoration, or crown.
Implants are tiny screws made from an extremely strong metal like titanium. The screw is inserted through the gum where a tooth is missing and into the underlying bone. The implant replaces the tooth root and supports the crown, or the replacement tooth.
Generally, implants need some time for the underlying bone to fuse to the metal before the restoration is “loaded” onto the implant. This can take as long as six months. There are some instances where the restoration can be loaded immediately. This may happen when a tooth is being extracted. The implant is placed and the crown is loaded in one session.
A single implant supports one restoration. Two or more implants can permanently anchor a dental bridge or even dentures to replace a full “arch” of missing teeth.
Advantages of Dental Implants
Implants are the strongest and longest-lasting dental restoration available. The metal implant itself should last as long as you live. Since the restoration is supported by the implant rather than by neighboring teeth, it functions exactly like a natural tooth. If the crown does wear down, it’s easily detached from the implant and replaced.
Dental implants can do wonders for people who wear full dentures. With the dentures supported by and fixed to the implants, there’s no movement of dentures in the mouth. There’s also no chance of embarrassment due to dentures popping out of the mouth unexpectedly.
Who Can Get Implants?
There are three key factors that determine whether dental implants will work for you. One is the thickness of the underlying bone. When a tooth is lost, the bone is no longer stimulated by the pressure of chewing and it begins to slowly deteriorate. The bone has to be thick and strong enough to handle the enormous pressure of chewing.
In some cases, where a single implant can’t be used, “mini-implants” help spread the pressure across a wider area.
Bone thickness is determined by digital imaging and careful measurements.
The second factor is the health of your gums. Gums help support teeth and act as a barrier to keep bacteria from getting to the vulnerable parts below the gum line. If there’s active gum disease, it will need to be treated fully before implants are an option. If your gums have receded, grafting can restore enough gum tissue to surround the implant.
The third factor is your general health. Implants are placed through oral surgery. Like any surgery, there’s healing involved. People with poor wound healing, with bleeding disorders, or with autoimmune problems may not be candidates for implants.
The only way to know whether implants are the right choice for you is to schedule a consultation.