Dental Implants: Advantages, Risks and Aftercare
Dental implants are probably the best (and certainly the most popular) method for replacing damaged or missing teeth -- but they are not always suitable for every person.
Before opting for dental implant surgery, the pros and cons should be discussed in detail with the dental specialist who will perform the operation. This includes the likelihood of a successful outcome.
But what are dental implants exactly? Are they better than dentures? How do they look, feel and act? What are the benefits and risks? Do they require special treatment or care? Read on…
What are Dental Implants?
An implant is a permanent fixture consisting of a titanium or metal screw that is embedded in the jawbone and to which a crown (false tooth) is attached. The metal screw replaces the root of the missing tooth -- while the crown is shaped and coloured to match the surrounding teeth.
The result is a natural-looking tooth that is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.
Depending on the size, location and number of teeth being replaced, a number of dental specialists may be required in the preparation process including a periodontist, prosthodontist and ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist.
This team will:
- Review medical history with specific attention to existing medical conditions and prescriptions.
- Conduct a detailed oral examination including X-rays and 3D imaging.
- Construct model replicas of the teeth and jaw.
- Devise a treatment plan for the surgery and aftercare.
Controlling pain during surgery is done with local or general anaesthesia. The method will depend on suitability, the extent of surgery being undertaken and a patient's preference.
Implants or Dentures?
One of the biggest advantages of dental implants over dentures is their natural look and feel. Once fitted, it is virtually impossible to distinguish a dental crown from its neighbouring natural teeth.
Unlike removable dentures, dental implants are permanent fixtures anchored to the jawbone -- and cannot slip or fall out. Implants are also easier to clean and maintain than dentures. They require no special cleaning materials but are simply brushed along with the rest of the teeth.
Chewing, eating and talking are not an issue with dental implants as they are solidly locked into position -- unlike dentures which can slip.
A missing, misshapen or damaged tooth is not just unsightly but can also signify poor dental health. While dentists prefer to save a tooth, this is not always possible -- and dental implants are the next best thing.
Implants have many physical and aesthetic benefits including:
- Reducing possible bone loss around the base of the missing tooth or teeth
- Preserving the health of adjacent teeth, gums and jawbone
- Maintaining the stability of nearby teeth
- Making chewing and eating less troublesome
- Being colour-matched to existing teeth
- Being long lasting
- Allowing for a confident smile and increased self-confidence
- Restoring physical appearance
- An added benefit of dental implants is that they cannot decay or develop cavities – as they are artificial teeth.
No tooth replacement system is ever perfect (at least not yet) and dental implants do have some risks -- although these are few, and the exception rather than the rule.
The main risks are:
- Possible accidental damage to adjacent teeth
- Possible oral tissue damage
- Possible nerve damage
- Possible infection around implant
- Possible Implant failure
The first three risks are minimal and can normally be attributed to a novice or inexperienced surgeon -- while infection is always a risk in any dental or medical procedure.
Implant failure is an infrequent occurrence -- and is rare as patients are thoroughly screened and tested for medical or dental conditions that may result in the procedure failing.
Dental Implant Procedure and Timeline
Whether having a single or multiple dental implants, the procedure is basically the same:
- Damaged tooth is removed and the site cleaned
- Jawbone density is tested and bone grafting carried out (if required)
- Metal (or ceramic) post is inserted into the jawbone
- Time is allocated for new bone growth and the implant site to heal
*Abutment (to which the crown will be attached) is attached to the post
- Dental crown is fixed to the abutment then trimmed to a finish
* In many cases the abutment is already attached to the post thus avoiding this surgical procedure.
Depending on the number of dental implants being fitted, and the complexity of the procedures, it can take months to complete the entire process with much of the time spent in healing and new bone growth.
Because it is an invasive surgical procedure, there can be some after-effects. These are to be expected and can include one or more of the following:
- Swollen gums and face
- Bruised gums and skin
- Localised throbbing or pain
- Minor bleeds around and under the implant
These are normal reactions and can usually be treated with antibiotics or pain medications. If symptoms persist, however, the operating dental surgeon should be informed immediately.
Dental implants are the best and most effective method of replacing missing or irreversibly damaged teeth. Implants look, feel and act like natural teeth. Dental implants also have the added bonus of requiring no special cleaning or attention once set in place and are durable and long-lasting.
Many people prefer them to dentures. In many cases, a few dental implants can make dentures more secure – so it’s a win-win. Talk to your dentist, and learn if dental implants have a place in your dental care.