A dental implant is simply a metal post that your dentist inserts into the bone so that it then supports some prosthetic upper fitment such as a crown. The great benefit of dental implants is that they are every bit as strong and resilient as the teeth they replace and should last a lifetime.
The reason dental implants are so strong is because of a process called osseointegration. The old Latin word for bone was “os”, so you may guess that osseointegration is the natural process whereby the bone fuses tightly and bonds with metals like titanium and also certain ceramics. This mimics the fusion of your original tooth roots with your jawbone and provides an extremely robust and long lasting foundation.
When it comes to assessing a patient for suitability for a dental implant, your dentist will first try to establish the patient’s level of general health. Health, rather than age, is a governing factor. This is because some ailments are known to retard or even prevent the healing and regenerative process that is required for successful osseointegration.
Patients suffering from leukemia, diabetes, or who practice poor oral hygiene or who are heavy smokers – these are far more likely to develop a gum disease that can threaten the stability of implants. Other health factors such as osteoporosis or prolonged use of steroids can increase the risk of failure.
Inserting a dental implant typically involves these steps:
First your dentist assesses your dental suitability to ensure that neighboring teeth allow sufficient space for the implant to be inserted. Then the implant is inserted as a minor surgical procedure.
There may be a period of time that must elapse to allow the implant to bed in and for the process of osseointegration to take hold. This depends on the patient’s bone density and other factors but can be as long as, say, three months. In other cases, no waiting period is required and the crowns or other prosthetic devices can be applied to the implant during the same visit.
Finally, the replacement tooth crown or bridge will be fitted on top of the implant. There is usually a waiting period while these are made up, with care being taken to ensure a good aesthetic match of color and shape with the patient’s existing teeth. Your dentist will fit a temporary crown over the implant while your permanent replacements are being made up. This is to bot cover and protect the implant and bone and also to enable you to lead a normal life during the intervening period.
The concept of using dental implants is nothing new. Archaeologists have discovered simple implants in the dental remains of people from 2,000 years ago! But they became really popular since the mid 1960s with the discovery of titanium as a perfect metal for osseointegration. Nowadays, both the materials and the techniques are extremely advanced such that dental implants are an everyday procedure. Your dentist will be happy to discuss their suitability for your condition and advice on the best choices.