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What to Consider When Considering Dental Implants 

What to Consider When Considering Dental Implants 

Dental implants permanently replace a single missing tooth, several missing teeth, or an entire set of teeth—top, bottom, or both. As your MDA dentist will tell you, there’s a lot to think about before you commit to this long-term smile restoration option.


Patients with missing teeth often long to have their full grins back. For many, especially those who’ve struggled with denture fit, the promise of permanent, natural-looking teeth is almost too good to be true.

Imagine, finally, no dentures or bridges to care for and take out before bed! No more struggling to eat certain foods! No more awkward clicking sounds when you talk! No more self-conscious tight-lipped smiles...

What many patients don't realize is that dental implants are not a quick fix​. They’re the end product of multiple highly specialized dental restoration procedures. It can take over a year after the initial surgery before patients flash those new pearly whites!

 

“Implants are the strongest devices available to support replacement teeth—and even better, they allow these new teeth to feel, look and function naturally.​ ” ​American Academy of Implant Dentistry

 

How Dental Implants Work

When we say “dental implants,” most people only think about the part they can see—the artificial teeth that blend in with their natural neighbors. Implants actually consist of three separate elements: the implant post, the abutment, and the custom prosthesis, or false tooth/teeth. When these parts come together, they form a sturdy artificial tooth replacement.

Just like with real teeth, dental implants require deep support far below the gum line. To establish this sturdy foundation, dentists must perform several complex procedures.

Here’s a quick overview of each major stage of the implant process—not taking into account lots of healing time and follow-up visits too!

  1. Implant Surgery:​ ​During oral surgery, a titanium (or other medical-grade material) post is surgically fixed into the jaw. As the jawbone heals, it slowly grows stronger around the post and secures it in place—this process is called “​osseointegration​.”
  2. Securing the Abutments:​ ​These connect the implant post and the replacement tooth/teeth. After sufficient jawbone healing, abutments are attached or inserted into the implant posts.
  3. Attaching the Prosthesis​: ​Finally, dentists attach custom-made false teeth, or prosthetics, to the abutments. Once in place, these look, act, and feel much closer to normal teeth than other options.

When do dentists use implants?

Implants may be used in otherwise healthy patients over the age of 16 who’ve lost a tooth/teeth as a result of an accident or disease. Sometimes they’re chosen instead of a tooth-supported bridge to help preserve surrounding tooth structure. Dentists may also recommend implants for patients who’ve experienced fit issues and prolonged discomfort with their dentures.

A few reasons dentists like dental implants:

  • They Keep Existing Teeth Healthy​: ​Over time, gaps from missing teeth cause the surrounding teeth to shift and decline in health. Implants prevent this from happening.
  • They Preserve Bone Structure​:​ Tooth loss, especially of an entire set, results in jawbone loss. Implants actually help strengthen the jawbone and preserve a patient’s remaining teeth.
  • They’re Long-Lasting​:​ When properly cared for, implants can last for decades longer than dentures, bridges, and other tooth replacements.

Why aren’t implants right for everyone?

Implants involve oral surgery. Anyone starting the process must be healthy enough to undergo surgery and heal properly. For these reasons, dentists usually don’t recommend dental implants for:

  • People with diabetes, leukemia, cancer, and certain chronic illnesses that put them at risk of developing serious infections.
  • Patients whose jawbones are not healthy enough to support implants. Some patients may require additional jaw surgery before implants can be considered.
  • Those with certain “high-risk” habits, like tobacco use, heavy alcohol consumption, and/or a history of drug abuse. These behaviors negatively impact the healing and recovery process.

Before an MDA member dentist will recommend implants, they examine and assess a patient carefully to determine if implants may be a good fit. At this evaluation, dentists also consider a patient’s ability to commit to the implant process and to prioritize their oral health.

What type of dentists specialize in implants?

Implants may require the expertise of periodontists, oral surgeons, cosmetic dentists, or even a team of several dental specialists. Your MDA dentist can refer you to an MDA member dentist who specializes in implant dentistry.

How long does the dental implant process take?

Depending on the patient, the process can take anywhere from a few months to over a year. This is because significant healing must occur between the initial implant surgery and the final placement of the new custom-made prosthetic tooth/teeth.

Other things to consider when thinking about dental implants:

Remember, it’s a process! The last thing you or your dentist want is for you to undergo oral surgery only to be unable to go through with getting your final replacement tooth/teeth. Ask yourself if you’re ready to commit to the following:

  • The Cost:​ Implants and prosthetics themselves are expensive. In addition, you’ll need to take into account the cost of oral surgery as well as co-pays or out-of-pocket expenses for multiple dental visits.
  • The Time:​ Do you have time for: several dental appointments, oral surgery and healing, a daily post-surgical at-home care routine, prosthetic fittings, and regular follow-ups?
  • The Care:​ Can you commit to taking excellent care of your oral health pre-surgery, post-surgery, as well as for the life of your implants?

To find out if implants may be right for you, visit your MDA dentist and discuss your options. Don’t have an MDA dentist? Use our ​Find a Dentist​ tool to find an MDA member dentist near you who specializes in oral surgery or periodontics.


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