A titanium dental implant is essentially a titanium screw used to replace a missing tooth. It measures about 6 to 16 millimeters in length and is inserted into a prepared bony socket in the jaw to act as an artificial tooth root. Once the implant is put in place through an implant surgery, it fuses with the surrounding bone in a process known as osseointegration. This process generally takes about three to six months.
An implant surgery involves preparing a bony socket and fitting the implant into it. The part of the implant that protrudes from the bone and through the gums is where a dental crown will be attached. The crown is made from either porcelain or a combination or porcelain and metal. Before the crown is placed, a healing cap is put on to facilitate healing of the surgical site. The healing cap is removed after six months. By then, the tissues have healed and the implant has attached itself to the surrounding bone.
Titanium has been the material predominantly used in making dental implants due to its inertness and compatibility with living tissues. However, experts are starting to introduce some new materials such as zirconia. Zirconia is becoming more popular due to its strength, durability, and ability to induce osseointegration much like titanium implants.
According to clinical studies, since both materials can integrate with the bone, the success rate of titanium and zirconia implants are more or less the same. However, titanium implants have a much longer track record, and most patients have their titanium implants for 25 or 35 years. As for zirconia,just introduced recently, there is not much of a track record with it yet.
The main advantage of implants over other tooth replacement options is that they look, feel, fit, and function like natural teeth. In addition, other options like dental bridges and conventional dentures can lead to bone deterioration or may interfere with normal activities such as eating, smiling, and speaking. Traditional tooth-supported dental bridges only last for 5 to 10 years before they have to be replaced. Conventional dentures are good for 3 to 5 years. Dental implants can, in some cases, last a lifetime when properly placed and cared for.
Dental implants are the only dental restoration option that preserves and stimulates the natural bone. They help prevent bone loss which allows the patient to have a restoration that lasts as long as possible. Bone loss happens when a patient loses a tooth. The primary purpose of the jaw bone is to support the teeth. If there is nothing to support, the bone slowly starts to degenerate or pull away from that area. For example, if a single tooth was lost, the bone that supports it shrinks away and creates a sunken look in the jaw. But if an implant replaces that missing tooth, it helps keep the bone at the same level instead of slowly receding over time.
Dental implants may be used in cases of single or multiple missing teeth. If they replace multiple teeth, the implant will be topped with a denture instead of multiple separate crowns. This implant-denture combination is known as an implant overdenture. But if the patient does not want any kind of denture at all, it is fine to replace every single tooth in the mouth with implants and crowns. It is not normally done but it is technically possible as long as there is enough space and bone support.
The biggest limitation of titanium dental implants is that they are not suited for patients who do not have enough bone support to anchor the implant in place. Loss of bone support may result from gum disease that has been left untreated for a long time or a traumatic incident involving the teeth. If there is insufficient bone support, placing dental implants can get more complex. The good news is there are now procedures and products that can help rebuild or regenerate bone tissue such as bone grafting procedures and protein gels (i.e. emdogain).
One major factor dentists consider when determining if a patient is a good candidate for implants is how committed the patient is to good oral hygiene. Poor oral hygiene may be a sign that the patient is not a good candidate for having dental implants. In addition, medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease have to be taken into account by dentists. Diabetic patients may not heal as well as healthy patients and they may not be able to cope with the procedure itself.
Risks and complications from dental implant surgery are rare. When they do occur, they are usually minor and easily managed. Some of the risks include:
Recovery after an implant surgery is generally fast. Patients should expect a few days of soreness. The soreness might last a bit longer depending on how many implants were placed and how much surgery had to be done. Ideally, patients can return to work a day or two after their surgery.
Patients are advised to eat a soft food diet during the first few weeks of recovery and gradually work up to eating chewy or harder foods. Foods that are hard, crunchy or chewy will cause discomfort and might result in poor healing.
Caring for implants is similar to caring for natural teeth. They should be kept clean and plaque-free through brushing, flossing, and using mouth wash at least twice a day. Cleaning is essential after every meal. Patients should see a dentist on a regular basis to ensure the health of the gums and bone around the implant.
If taken care of properly, dental implants are expected to last indefinitely. However, the crown, bridge, or denture will probably have to be replaced or redone at some point in the future.
Dental implant surgery is a safe procedure with a very high success rate. As the procedure and the materials used continue to evolve, dental implants are becoming the best way to replace missing teeth.
Written by Cosmetic Town Editorial Team- AA
Based on an exclusive with Fredrick Lewcock, DDS in Round Rock, TX