It used to be that tooth loss meant placement of a dental bridge or dentures. Now, people who lose one or more teeth may have a far more appealing option. Dental implants offer a permanent solution that looks and feels like natural teeth.
“The first question is whether a patient is a good candidate for implants,” says Dr. June Wolff of Clayton Dental. “Implants can be placed successfully in people anywhere from 14 to 100 years old, but not everyone is an appropriate candidate.” Most people can benefit from dental implants because there are several types available, but Wolff carefully reviews her patients’ history, health condition and needs before choosing an implant.
In general, younger patients are the best implant candidates, but some types of chronic diseases or sinus cavities located too close to the bone may be impediments to successful implants. Wolff also notes that insurance usually does not cover dental implants, which may cause some people to choose other options.
“We also sometimes see issues with people who are taking osteoporosis drugs, such as Fosamax,” she says. These drugs work to maintain bone density but can inhibit new bone growth and slow or impede the implant healing process. “That’s something to consider and talk with your doctor about,” Wolff adds.
Dr. Michael Noble, chairman of the division of oral and maxillofacial surgery at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center, says, “In a healthy patient, implants are the best option available to replace teeth. This is the finest restoration you can do, and it lasts a lifetime with regular care.”
Dental implants are placed by drilling into the bone beneath the gum and screwing in a titanium post. A cosmetic crown is placed over the implant, and adjacent teeth are left untouched. As the patient heals, the implant and bone fuse through a natural process known as osseointegration, which takes three to six months. A temporary crown may be placed over the implant until osseointegration is complete and a permanent crown is placed. “In recent years we’ve seen modified surfaces on implants that make them more amenable to fusing with the bone and therefore even more stable and reliable,” Noble says.
One benefit of implants is that they maintain bone structure, explains Dr. George Duello of Periodontics Ltd. “A bridge might last eight to 10 years, although some last longer and others fail sooner,” he says. “But implants allow us to save the bone, unlike the other types of procedures that address tooth loss. The lifetime success rate for implants is 95 percent to 98 percent.”
Because of implants’ structural benefits, Duello considers them a more conservative solution than the traditional dental bridge or denture. “No one should have to get dentures without considering implants as a better alternative,” he adds. “Almost everyone prefers them to dentures, and when you consider how much you use your mouth for smiling, talking, eating, implants are very worthwhile.”
All the experts consulted for this article emphasized one important point that should be considered before a patient goes ahead with implants: the experience of the dentist, periodontist or surgeon performing the procedure.
“It’s a good idea to make sure the person performing the procedure has done a lot of implants,” Duello says. “I suggest patients ask for referrals and find out just how much experience the practitioner has with implant procedures. Given you find an experienced dental professional to take your case, implants are a conservative and effective way to safely replace missing teeth.”