69% of people 35-45 years old have at least one tooth missing, while more than 25% of people aged 75 and older have no teeth left whatsoever, according to research conducted by the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. Dental implants have become a top solution for tooth replacement, providing a more reliable and longer-lasting result than dentures and bridges. In fact, over 15 million people worldwide have dental implants and that number is increasing by about 500,000 people annually.
Aside from the numerous health benefits dental implants provide, they also vastly improve patients’ quality of life. With permanent dental implants, patients are able to smile, laugh, chew, and speak normally, just like they would if they had all of their natural teeth.
Dental Implants: A Crash Course
Dental implants are the closest a patient can get to having natural teeth. During dental implant surgery, an implant — typically made of titanium, but sometimes zirconia — is placed into the jawbone, acting as an artificial tooth root. Next, an abutment, or connector, is placed on top of the implant to support custom-made crowns that are designed to match existing teeth and perfectly fit the patient’s mouth. After surgery during the healing process, the dental implants fuse with the jawbone, creating a strong, durable base to support the crowns. Implants are the only tooth replacement option available that is permanent and preserves the patient’s natural bone, preventing atrophy of the jawbone.
Implants function exactly like natural teeth, allowing patients to eat, speak, and generally live their lives as normal. Dentures typically require adhesive, can slip and become ill-fitting over time, must be removed for cleaning, and can come out during speaking or eating, causing humiliation. Wearing dentures can also progress bone loss in the jaw, because the denture rubs against the bony ridge of the jawbone, gradually wearing it down. Bridges have far fewer complications than dentures but generally last only 5-10 years and require adjacent healthy teeth to be filed down and capped. Dental implants are anchored and will not move, prevent bone loss, and can last a lifetime when properly cared for.
There are many things to consider when deciding if dental implants are the right option and understandably, one of the most common concerns is regarding the safety of implants.
How Safe are Dental Implants?
Dental implants have been traced as far back as 600 AD, when shell material was found hammered into a Mayan woman’s jawbone. More modern implant surgeries have been performed worldwide for over 50 years and the American College of Prosthodontists reports that they have a success rate of 98%. Largely responsible for the stunning number of successful outcomes is that patients must meet some specific criteria to be eligible candidates.
- Patients who have gum disease or untreated tooth decay, or who do not have a sufficient amount of jawbone, are not good candidates for dental implants. It’s important to have adequate bone density in order to accommodate the implant and allow it to fuse to the jaw. Implants put in where there is active gum or tooth disease can cause infection in the jaw and the implant to fail.
- Smokers of any type are also not good candidates because smoke causes harm to the tissue in the gums.
- Diabetics or those who suffer from cancer or blood clotting disorders may not be good candidates because of their bodies’ compromised healing process.
- People with a sensitivity to metals including lead, nickel, copper, zinc, or iron may not be candidates for implants either, as often these metals are alloyed with titanium in the implants.
The good news is that with so many options and alternatives including bone grafting, almost anyone who is able to have routine dental work is a good candidate for implants.
It’s important to understand that while any dangers associated with dental implants are rare and minimal, there is still some risk because a complex surgery is being performed. Potential risks include:
- Infection around the implant site, including the gum or surrounding teeth
- Sinus problems if an implant protrudes into a sinus cavity
- Nerve or blood vessel damage, particularly if an implant is placed at the same site where a natural tooth was recently extracted
In some cases, even when the implant surgery has been successful and the mouth heals sufficiently, dental implants can loosen or fail. This is typically due to poor oral hygiene habits, where bacteria or plaque are allowed to build upon the surface of the implant and cause inflammation, infection, or bone loss around the implant site.
It is also important to note that dental implant surgery is not a quick fix. Full healing can take up to six months and several follow-up appointments are required to monitor the performance of the implants and ensure their continued health.
Dental implants offer a permanent, life-changing solution to people with missing or failing teeth, with almost no risks whatsoever. To learn more about dental implant surgery, request an appointment with our office today.
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