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What is a dental implant?

A dental implant is a titanium screw or cylinder used to replace the root of a natural tooth. It can support one or more false teeth.
Just like a tooth root, it is placed into the jawbone; it is made of titanium because this metal has the unique property of being able to integrate very closely with bone and so produce a very stable base for replacement teeth. A dental implant normally has some form of internal screw thread or post space that allows a variety of components to be fitted. Once fitted, these components provide the foundation for long-term support of dental crowns, bridges or dentures.
See The Good Dentist Guide to Dental Crowns, Bridges, Dentures.



What is a mini-implant?

A mini-implant is the combination of a miniature titanium implant and an O-ring incorporated into the base of a denture.  A set of two, three or four such mini-implants is most commonly and effectively used to secure a lower denture that is loose or poorly fitting; the fittings on the denture snap into place over the implants with the rubber O-ring providing cushioning.

When might I need a dental implant?

There are several situations where one or more dental implants might be the appropriate solution:
  • loss of a single tooth
  • several missing teeth
  • problems with loose or painful dentures due to bone loss or gum inflammation
If missing teeth are not replaced there is not only the cosmetic consequences of the resulting gap, but the remaining teeth can tilt and move into the gap. This can then cause bite and gum problems to develop.

Loss of a single tooth

You may lose a tooth through trauma (when teeth are knocked out) or due to decay, gum disease or old age. The missing tooth itself causes a problem from an aesthetic point of view, so you may wish to replace it with a false tooth of some type; however the missing root also causes a problem since the bone surrounding the hole where the root used to be will gradually shrink away and disappear. A dental implant placed in this area can actually stimulate bone growth and production, preventing loss of valuable bone structure. A dental bridge or a denture will not have this effect of preventing bone loss.

Several missing teeth

By replacing lost teeth with implants, no support is required from adjacent teeth, and your natural teeth do not need to be prepared or altered in any way; plus bone loss is prevented as previously discussed.
Full-mouth reconstructions are perfectly possible, with the teeth supported by several implants in each jaw.
If several missing teeth are replaced with dental bridges, the teeth on either side of the gap need to be prepared and healthy tooth structure removed to accommodate the bridge fitting on top. If one of the supporting teeth is subsequently damaged or develops a problem, the entire bridge restoration will also be compromised. See The Good Dentist Guide to Bridges 
If several missing teeth are replaced with a denture, this can become loose and look un-natural; bone loss becomes a problem for some people, and as the shape of the jaw slowly changes, the dentures need to be adjusted or re-made to fit the new shape of the jaw.

Problems with dentures

Over time dentures can become loose or patients can find the hard biting forces cause pain in the gums. Irritation and inflammation of the gums is a common problem amongst denture patients. Dentures can be secured by mini-implants, which will greatly improve the stability of the denture, enabling patients to eat and speak with complete confidence, and removing the worry of bone loss. Due to their small size the procedure for placing them is very quick and involves very little discomfort, making it suitable for elderly patients who are most likely to be suffering problems with loose (particularly lower) dentures.

Are dental implants suitable for everyone?

Not necessarily.  It depends upon your overall health and your oral hygiene; and it depends on the amount and condition of the bone in your jaw: as the implant screws directly into the jawbone, you need enough jawbone present to make sure it screws in properly.
Your dentist will arrange for X-rays and CT scans to assess bone quality; if there is not enough, or if it is not healthy enough, it may not be possible to place implants without grafting bone into the area first, and your dentist may decide to use smaller mini-implants if suitable.
Other risk factors include
  • Heavy smoking, which slows healing
  • Excessive alcohol intake, which disrupts healing of the gums
  • Gum disease, which must be treated before any implant procedure
  • Teeth grinding, which can prevent the implant from integrating properly with the bone

What is the procedure for fitting dental implants?

This is generally a three-stage process taking anything from one to six months; your dentist will be able to give you a timetable. Bone grafting, if required, will generally lengthen the treatment process.
The first stage is fitting the implant: under a local anaesthetic (or sedation for a very nervous patient or complicated case), the gum where the implant is to be placed is cut and lifted, a small hole is drilled in the jawbone, the implant fitted tightly into the hole and the gum stitched back over the implant. The implant is left to heal and knit with the jawbone for several weeks. Your dentist will give you instructions on how to look after your implant during that time.
After this healing period, the gum is again cut and lifted, and a post is attached to the implant with a temporary crown.  The gum is then allowed to heal around the post for one to six weeks.
Finally the permanent crown or bridge can be fitted to the implant/implants.

How much do dental implants cost?

The cost will vary considerably depending upon the level of skill of the surgeon, the type of implant used, the amount of work required (eg bone grafting) and the number of implants required. The costs of a single tooth implant can vary from £1500 up to £3,500. It is advisable to get a written estimate and treatment plan before beginning any dental treatment.

How do I look after my dental implants?

If you maintain good oral hygiene and have them regularly checked by your dentist you should not have any problems. Smoking affects the health of natural teeth and implants. So, if you smoke, you may need to look after your implants more carefully.

How long will my dental implants last?

Depending upon how well you look after them and how well the original treatment was done, they can last a lifetime. Often, the crowns, bridges and dentures are more likely to be damaged (and are more easily replaced), than the implants that support them.



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