What are dental implants?

Tooth human implant (done in 3d graphics)Dental implants are an effective way to replace missing teeth for certain patients and are custom made to appear like your natural teeth. Implants are an excellent long-term option for restoring your smile. Dental implants are made up of titanium and other materials that are bio-compatible and are very rarely rejected by your body. The implants, which look like specialized screws, are surgically inserted into your jaw and then a tooth is created over the top of the implant. Over time, your natural bone locks the implant into place by fusing, or attaching itself, to the implant.  Most patients find that a dental implant is secure, stable and a good replacement for their own tooth.

What are the advantages of Dental Implants?

For patients that are a good fit for dental implants, they can be a superior option to dentures or bridges. For some people, ordinary bridges and dentures are simply not comfortable or even possible, due to sore spots, lack of ridges or because they cause gagging. Further, bridges must be attached to teeth on either side of the space left by the missing tooth. An advantage of implants is that no adjacent teeth need to be ground down to hold your the new teeth.

What do I need to know about Dental Implants?

To receive implants, you need to have healthy gums and adequate bone to support the implant. Unfortunately, if you have lost many teeth because of jaw bone loss, dental implants may not be appropriate and a custom digital denture may be a far better solution. It is essential that you commit to keeping your gums and jaw bone healthy. Postoperative infection can doom an implant. Meticulous oral hygiene and regular dental visits are critical to the long-term success of dental implants.

Chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or leukemia, or tobacco use may make implants inappropriate. Cancer, radiation to the jaws, alcoholism, uncontrolled gum disease or diabetes, smoking, certain medications and various other ailments can affect your body’s ability to heal and accordingly, whether dental implants will fuse to your bone.

What is the process for Dental Implants?

At the first visit, the dentist surgically places the implant into your jawbone. After the implantation, it will take some time for your jawbone to heal around the implant.  This process in which your bone ‘knits’ into the implant matrix is called called osseointegration. Not disturbing the implant during this process is key to allowing the bone to actually grow around it and hold it in place. Some patients might need to wait several months before replacement teeth can be attached to the implant.

Some dentists or implant centers advertise “teeth in a day,” implying that anyone can get their replacement teeth in one day, or even in just an hour. Unfortunately, relatively few patients are candidates and the advertising creates false expectations for the typical dental implant patient. Moreover, the danger of adding a tooth to an implant before it completely osseointegrates is that the procedure is higher risk — a patient might accidentally chew on the tooth and disrupt the process necessitating that the implant be removed.  To make sure there is no impact on your teeth, the dentist may require that the “implant in a day” tooth be shorter so that the food does not press on the tooth, or require you to eat a soft or liquid diet for ~2-3 months and/or splinting the tooth to other implants or natural teeth. Finally, the fact is that even the patients who qualify for this procedure do not actually receive their replacement teeth in one day. There is preliminary diagnostic work that is necessary prior to the “day” that they have treatment.

Occasionally, additional surgical procedures may be required prior to placing an implant.  If there is insufficient quantity or quality of bone, the surgeon may need to do a procedure called a bone graft in which cadaver or artificial bone is placed into the extraction socket and allowed to heal.  Once adequate healing is established, the implant can then be placed.  Furthermore, on the upper teeth, if there is insufficient bone, a procedure called a sinus lift may need to be performed to allow enough space for an implant to be successfully placed.  Due to the complex and individualized nature of each implant, it is important to have a very qualified surgeon on your team of dental specialists.  

Once the implant has successfully integrated, it’s time for the creation of the tooth that you will see. For a single tooth implant, Dr. Laskis will customize a new tooth for you.  This has two components – one is a dental crown and the other is a custom abutment.  The abutment connects to the implant with a screw and allows for the crown to be placed over top.  The crown will be similar in size, shape, and color to your natural teeth so it will blend in with your other teeth. If you are replacing more than a single tooth, custom-made bridges will be made to fit your mouth and your implants. Specialized dentures can also be made to attach to implants (commonly called an “all-on-four”) or to snap over implants to provide an improved fit for dentures. While these replacement teeth or dentures are fabricated, Dr. Laskis will likely give you a temporary crown or denture to allow you to eat, speak and live comfortably.

What do dental implants cost?

Implants are usually more expensive than other methods of tooth replacement.  For many patients the answer to this question will depend on whether they have dental insurance and what kind of benefits their insurance provides.  By having the implantation surgery in one year and restoring the tooth in the next calendar year, insurance coverage can be maximized to reduce the patient’s out of pocket cost.  Unfortunately, many insurance carriers typically cover less than 10 percent of the fees.   As you can imagine, the bulk of the cost is attributable to placing the implant. While the fees may be considerable, properly placed and restored implants should last a lifetime!

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