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Despite improvements in dental care, millions of Americans suffer tooth loss mostly due to tooth decay, periodontitis (gum disease), or injury. For many years, the only treatment options available for people with missing teeth were bridges and dentures. But today, dental implants are available.
Dental implants are titanium replacements of tooth roots. Implants provide a strong foundation for fixed (permanent) or removable replacement teeth that are made to match your natural teeth.
There are many advantages to dental implants, including:
Success rates vary, depending on where in the jaw the implants are placed. In general, dental implants have a success rate of up to 97%. With proper care (see below), implants can last a lifetime.
In most cases, anyone healthy enough to have a routine dental extraction (having a tooth pulled) or oral surgery can be considered for an implant procedure. Patients should have healthy gums and enough bone to hold the implant. They also must continue to practice good oral hygiene and have regular dental visits.
Heavy smokers, people who have uncontrolled chronic disorders (such as diabetes or heart disease), or patients who have had radiation therapy to the head/neck area need to be evaluated on an individual basis. If you are considering dental implants, talk to your dentist to see if they are right for you.
The first step is the development of an individualized treatment plan. The plan addresses your specific needs and is prepared by a team of professionals who are specially trained and experienced in oral surgery and restorative dentistry. This team approach provides coordinated care based on the implant option that is best for you.
Next, the tooth root implant, which is a small post made of titanium, is placed into the bone socket of the missing tooth. (More often, some bone grafting is done to fill the socket of the missing tooth; after that has healed, the implant is placed. This is done to make sure the implant is placed in as ideal a location as possible, to make the restoration look as natural as possible.) As the jawbone heals, it grows around the implanted metal post, attaching it securely in the jaw. The healing process can take from six to 12 weeks.
Once the implant has bonded to the jawbone, a small connector post called an abutment is attached to the post to securely hold the new tooth. To make your new tooth or teeth, your dentist makes impressions of your teeth and creates a model of your bite (which captures all of your teeth, their type, and their arrangement). Your new tooth or teeth are based on this model. A replacement tooth, called a crown, is then attached to the abutment.
Instead of one or more individual crowns, some patients may have attachments placed on the implant that hold and support a removable denture.
Your dentist also will match the color of your new teeth to your natural teeth. Because the implant is secured within the jawbone, the replacement teeth look, feel, and work just like your own natural teeth.
Most people who have received dental implants say that there is very little discomfort involved in the procedure. Local anesthesia can be used during the procedure, and most patients report that implants cause less pain than having a tooth pulled.
After the dental implant, mild soreness can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications, such as Tylenol®
Dental implants require the same care as real teeth, including brushing, flossing, and regular dental check-ups. Implants will not decay, but they can be affected by periodontal disease just as teeth may.
In general, implants are not covered by dental insurance at this time. Coverage under your medical plan may be possible, depending on the insurance plan and/or cause of tooth loss. Detailed questions about your needs and how they relate to insurance should be discussed with your dentist and your insurance provider.
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