About Dental Implants
A dental implant is a metal rod that is placed in the jawbone to hold a false tooth in place. They are usually made of titanium, a metal that is well tolerated by the body. Over several months, the bone fuses with the metal implant. A small attachment is left protruding through the gum, and dentures or bridges can be screwed or clipped onto this attachment. One implant can support one or more false teeth. Five or six implants are usually used to replace all the teeth in the jaw.
Why have Dental Implants?
There are a number of reasons why you may choose to have implants.
Implants may not be an option for people with chronic conditions such as poorly controlled diabetes or osteoporosis. This is because the jaw may not heal properly and the implants may not fuse with the jawbone. If implants are not suitable for you, your dentist will discuss alternative treatments with you.
What are the Alternatives?
You may choose to accept the space where a tooth is missing and do nothing. The alternatives to implants are dentures or bridges.
What is Involved?
You may need to have an X-ray or a CT scan so that your dentist can check the thickness of your jawbones and the position of other structures in your mouth. A CT scan uses x-rays to build up a three-dimensional picture of your teeth and mouth.
A cut will be made in the gum and a hole will be made in the jawbone. The implant will be fitted into this hole.
Your surgeon may place the implant into the tooth socket directly after your tooth has been taken out and replace the root of the natural tooth straight away. Alternatively the implant can be placed into the jawbone long after the tooth has been removed and socket has healed.
Once the implant is placed, the gum will be stitched over it and the area will be left to heal. Stitches are usually checked after about a week.
Sometimes your dentist can attach artificial teeth on the same day you have the implant. Usually however, you will need to wait for between three and six months while your mouth heals before it can be fitted. The healing process allows time for your jawbone to fuse securely with the surface of the implant.
While your mouth is healing, your dentist may fit a temporary bridge or partial denture so you can't see the spaces between your remaining teeth. If you have complete dentures, they can generally be adjusted so that you can wear them throughout this period.
After the Procedure
After your mouth has healed, you may need to have a second, smaller surgical procedure to uncover the gum over the top of the implant. Your Surgeon will then fit your artificial teeth onto the implant. The teeth may be fixed permanently or be attached in a way that allows you to remove them for cleaning. Your Surgeon will ensure that they fit properly, match your other teeth and feel comfortable.
Deciding on Treatment
Dental Implants have a high success rate and the surgery is commonly performed. However, in order to make an informed decision and give your consent, you need to be aware of the possible side-effects and the risk of complications of this procedure.
Side-effects are the unwanted, but mostly temporary effects of a procedure. Examples of side-effects include some swelling and discomfort around the implant area. If you have any discomfort, take an over-the-counter painkiller such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Follow the instructions in the patient information leaflet that comes with the medicine and ask your pharmacist for advice about whether it's suitable for your individual circumstances.
The chance of complications depends on the type of procedure you are having and factors such as your general health. Complications can occur during or after the procedure. Most people aren't affected. The complications of any surgical procedure can include an unexpected reaction to the anaesthetic or infection. You are likely to be prescribed antibiotics and an antiseptic mouthwash to reduce the risk of your implant becoming infected.
Your lower jaw contains nerves which supply feeling to your tongue, chin, lower lip and lower teeth. In a small number of people, the nerves in the lower jaw can become bruised during implant surgery. This may cause a tingling or numb feeling in your tongue, chin or lip. This is usually temporary, but in a small number of people this altered sensation may be permanent.
On very rare occasions, the jawbone doesn't fuse with the implant properly and the implant may become loose. If this happens, your dentist will need to remove the failed implant and wait until the bone has healed before attempting to place another implant.
Most implants are very successful, but the crowns, bridges and dentures that the implants support can be damaged just like normal teeth - for example, as a result of an accident, break or chip. The crowns, bridges or dentures are generally easily replaced, providing the implant underneath is not damaged.
Implants can last for many years, but maintaining good oral hygiene is vital. To help maintain your implants you may have to spend more time than you did in the past thoroughly brushing and flossing your teeth. Your dentist will give you specific advice on caring for your implants. He or she will ask you to attend regular check-ups and will usually take x-ray images each year to check your implants are still secure.