If you are at all uncomfortable at the thought of getting a dental implant, you might be pleasantly surprised to learn the truth about these marvelous state-of-the-art tooth-replacement systems — and the special role of a relatively new device, the mini-implant. So, first, let's go over some basic facts.
What's a dental implant? Basically, it's just a replacement for the root part of the tooth, the part that lies beneath the gum line. It attaches to a crown, which is a replacement for the visible portion of the tooth. But instead of ceramics or metals, implants are made of titanium, which becomes fused to the surrounding bone. When complete, implants are much stronger and longer-lasting than other methods of tooth replacement, like bridgework and dentures.
Implants are presently regarded as the best way to replace missing teeth, with a success rate of over 95%. They also help prevent bone loss in the jaw, a major goal of modern dentistry. Having one put in is an office procedure that's generally accomplished with local anesthesia, and most patients experience only minor discomfort. Standard dental implants can be used to replace a single tooth, or multiple teeth. The mini-implant, which is just a miniature version of the same technology, is now playing an increasing role in many other phases of dentistry.
Why mini-implants? Because in several situations, this smaller and less expensive alternative offers a solution that's just as good — or better — than any other dental treatment. One area where mini-implants excel is in supporting lower jaw overdentures.
Many people find that lower dentures are far more troublesome than upper dentures. The movement of the tongue muscle, and the smaller area of surface contact (compared to the upper denture, which is supported by the palate) often results in a poor, loose fit, which leads to problems when eating or speaking. These problems can be solved by affixing a lower overdenture (an implant-retained denture) with just two mini-implants.
Not only do mini-implants help prevent bone loss, they also give the denture wearer increased stability, comfort, and confidence. And they do so at a price that's more economical than you might think. In some cases, the mini-implants can be placed in a single one-hour office visit, and your own denture can be modified to fit them — so you can go home and eat a steak that night!
Another area where mini-implants are finding increasing use is in orthodontics. Orthodontic appliances (commonly called braces) move teeth by exerting a light force on them, using a wire which is fixed to a solid anchor point. Traditionally, other teeth are used as anchors — but sometimes these teeth move as well! By using immovable mini-implants as the anchor points, the process is greatly simplified. Strategically placed mini-implants called TADS (temporary anchorage devices) can be used to correct both skeletal (jaw) position and dental (tooth) position problems.
Mini-implants may also be used in upper dentures and temporary bridgework.
If you would like more information about mini-implants, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Implant Overdentures for the Lower Jaw,” “The Great Mini-Implant,” and “What are TADS?”
Worldwide it is generally accepted that the best method for permanently replacing a missing tooth is with a dental implant. However, one fact that can affect the timing of placement of dental implants is that the person should be fully mature. In this case, it means that growth is complete, in particular the jawbones have completed growing. And while we are sensitive to teens who may beg for a dental implant to replace a missing, damaged or traumatized tooth, parents or caregivers should know that research and experience have shown that it is better to wait.
The main reason it is best to wait is because natural teeth grow and move with the jaws as they mature whereas implants don't. Natural teeth change positions and move with the jaws as the jaws grow, implants don't. They are fused to the bone in one position and as the jawbone grows, they get left behind and appear to sink as the adjacent teeth and jawbone grow in harmony.
Although it is not really possible to determine exactly when a person has finished growing, it is generally best to wait until the jaw is fully matured and developed. However, we are the most qualified, along with our orthodontic colleagues to “guesstimate” based on family history, age and genetics. Specialized radiographs (x-rays) of the skull and jaws may also be helpful in determining the timing of jaw growth completion and when implants can be placed.
Dental implants are a permanent solution to a dental problem and thus should not be used until all growth is complete. Think about it. Your young child gets a beautifully restored smile through a dental implant...and for a year or two it looks fantastic. However, as your child's jaws continue to grow, everyone begins to notice gaps between the implant and adjacent teeth. So it makes sense to avoid this eventuality; by just waiting until late teens when beautifully restored crowns on properly positioned dental implants should last for many many years.
Most people think of bone as rock-solid, but it's actually a living tissue that's constantly changing. This has significant implications for your oral health, general health, and appearance — if you are one of the 70% of Americans missing at least one tooth.
Throughout the day, your top and bottom teeth make hundreds of fleeting contacts with each other. These small stresses are transmitted though the periodontal ligament (“peri” – around; “odont” – tooth) that supports each tooth in its socket like a hammock. Think of it as a gentle push on the hammock, which causes the tooth to gently bump the underlying bone. The bone then builds up in the spot that's receiving stress to counteract it. This constant remodeling of bone is what allows bone to stay healthy and strong.
When a tooth is lost, the bone does not receive that gentle stress. It reacts by literally melting away. Sometimes this happens fairly quickly — in a matter of months. After the tooth-supporting bone is lost, the jawbone itself begins the same process of deterioration. This could eventually change the shape of the face, as the distance from nose to chin can decrease — even if only a few back teeth are missing. The results aren't pretty. But the good news is, there's a way to prevent all this.
Dental implants, which function as substitute tooth roots, actually save underlying bone when teeth are lost. They do this because they are made of titanium, which fuses to the bone in which it's set, stabilizing it. The implant is topped by a realistic-looking crown, which replaces the part of the missing tooth that was visible in the mouth. Together, they look and function just as your natural tooth did.
If you are missing a lot of teeth, implants can also be used to anchor bridges or even removable dentures while providing that same bone-saving benefit. And when you consider that they are so durable they should never need replacement, implants are a great investment.
You can read more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”
When it comes to replacing missing teeth, we have numerous options. However, two of the most common treatment options include bridgework and dental implants. See how much you really know about dental implants and bridgework by taking our quick and easy true/false self test.
Answers: 1) True. This fact shocks many people. 2) False. This is more commonly true for dental implants. 3) True. 4) True. This is one of the disadvantages of bridgework. 5) True. This is just one of the advantages of a dental implant. 6) True. 7) True. 8) False. Dental implants require surgery to be placed. 9) True. This fact is a significant advantage for dental implants. 10) True. Your results may vary; however, this statistic represents what you might expect.
Why is it important to replace missing teeth with restorations such as dental implants? You might be surprised to find that the damage caused by missing teeth is much greater than the simple gaps left in your smile.
As the years go by, teeth lost early in adulthood cause structural changes in a person's face. By age 45 changes in facial structure are already visible in the form of sunken cheeks. By 60, cheeks and lips lose their support, resulting in an aging look. This process continues and if the teeth are not replaced, much of the structural support of the person's face is lost.
These changes are caused by loss of bone. Although it may seem static, bone is actually living tissue that needs constant stimulation to maintain its form and density. With normal stimulation it is in a constant state of resorption (breaking down) and deposition (building up). Teeth provide the needed stimulation for the bone that surrounds them (called alveolar bone) as they meet each other during biting, chewing, and speech. When the stimulation continues, the bone continues to rebuild itself. Without this stimulation, the bone resorbs, does not build up again, and loses substance.
Without stimulation, alveolar bone loses width, height, and volume. Since your teeth and their surrounding bone support your chin, cheeks, and lips, this has a powerful effect on your appearance. It may also affect your ability to chew and to speak.
As alveolar bone diminishes, the next layer of bone also begins to resorb. This is the bone of the jaw itself. The lower part of the face begins to collapse, and the cheeks become hollow. This effect is especially noticeable for people with no teeth (edentulous).
Usually the first tooth to be lost, due to infection and decay, is a molar (back tooth). In the past, a missing single back tooth was frequently replaced by a fixed partial denture (FPD). A crown is provided for each of the two teeth on the sides of the gap, called abutment teeth, to support a false tooth in the middle. However, if they are not well cared for, the abutment teeth may be the next to succumb to decay.
Today the treatment of choice is an implant. A dental implant is a tooth-root replacement made of titanium, which fuses with the bone — making it very stable. Above the gums it is covered by a crown that looks like a natural tooth. The benefit of the implant is that it continues to provide stimulation to the alveolar bone, preventing bone loss.
Implants are also a good choice in the case of multiple missing teeth. They can be used to support bridges or false teeth (dentures). The results are an improved, younger appearance and better functionality.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your questions about missing teeth. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”