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Implants similar to natural teeth.

When Adults lose one or more teeth, there are several options for replacing those teeth. More and more patients are opting for an implant.

“Implants have made a big difference to a lot of patients’ appearance, comfort and function,” says Dr. Robert Loney, chair of the department of dental clinical sciences at the faculty of dentistry at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

“Patients say it’s more like having their natural teeth,” he adds.

Patricia Ross Woodford agrees. When the PEI native returned to Atlantic Canada after living for more than a decade in the UK, she discovered from her new dentist that she had to have six teeth removed—despite regular visits to the dentist and good oral health care. She discussed her options with the dentist and determined implants would give her the best benefits.

“I wanted to be able to eat, talk and smile normally. Implants enable me to do that,” says Woodford, who lives in Beaver Bank, NS.

A dental implant acts as an artificial root for your tooth. It’s made of metal, usually titanium or a titanium alloy, and placed directly into the jaw bone. “It looks like a little bolt,” notes Dr. Loney.

An implant is inserted about three to six months after a tooth has been removed, allowing ample time for the gum and bone to heal. Your dentist will then place the dental implant into your jawbone beneath the gum tissue, which is stitched. As the tissue heals, the implant bonds with the bone and attaches to the gum. In some cases, bone or gum grafts may be necessary to support an implant.

Your mouth will then be left to heal for a few months at which time a post, called an abutment, is used to connect a replacement tooth to the implant. In some cases, both procedures can be done at the same time.

If several teeth are being replaced by implants, a fixed bridge will be anchored to the dental implants. The bridge replaces the missing teeth and is held firmly in place by dental implants on each side of the missing teeth.

“It’s a fairly easy procedure,” notes Dr. Loney. “Most patients are surprised at how easy it is.”

For Ross Woodford, having the implants was not painful or difficult, but it was time consuming. She required bone grafts, which added to the timeline, and it took approximately two years for all the implants to be fully, and firmly, in place.

“The process went very smoothly,” says Ross Woodford. “I didn’t mind the wait. I understood my mouth needed time to heal and we need to ensure there was enough bone for the implant to adhere to.”

Implants actually help preserve bone, an important consideration especially as we age. “Whenever you remove a tooth, the bone around that tooth continues to shrink. Food can get caught here,” explains Dr. Loney. “The implant… helps preserve the bone. It doesn’t eliminate shrinkage but it dramatically reduces this.”

Implants benefit individuals in other ways as well. For people under 40 years of age, when a tooth is removed there is a significant chance the remaining teeth will shift position. “The teeth can drift or tilt,” says Dr. Loney. “This can cause cosmetic problems or chewing problems.”

Denture wearers may also find implants helpful. Individuals who have been wearing dentures for a long period of time may have little bone left. “There is nothing comparable we have for denture wearers with little bone,” says Dr. Loney.

“It is more comfortable,” he adds. “There is still some movement, but it doesn’t rub or move as much. The denture also doesn’t float when you’re speaking.”

Care of the dental implant is also required. Once a crown or bridge is in place over an implant, it will not decay. However, the root surface underneath can decay, so good oral health care practices—including daily brushing and flossing —are essential. Regular dental checkups are important so the dentist can make sure the bite is right and that the implants are not loose.

Although rare, possible complications due to dental implants include bleeding, infection, numbness or injury to nearby muscles or the sinus cavity. In some cases, the implant may not be successful because it didn’t bond to the bone. However, the success rate for implants is high—more than 95 per cent, notes Dr. Loney. “Once bone has grown around the implant, it will be good for the rest of your life.”

Implants will not be an option for everyone. For example, individuals with some medical conditions, such as uncontrolled diabetes, may have a reduced rate of success. Implants are also not recommended for young people who are still growing.

For the most part though, if you are in good health and have enough bone and healthy gum tissue for support, implants are a likely alternative.

Finances are also an important consideration. In the short term, implants cost more than bridges, the most common alternative, at roughly $1,000 a tooth. “Over the longer term, it’s cheaper,” notes Dr. Loney. “Over the life of a person, you’ll need a new bridge, which requires three procedures.”

The benefits of implants

According to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry, there are numerous benefits to implants over other treatments. These include:

  • Ensuring strong and stable teeth that look, feel, fit and function like a natural tooth
  • Offering a replacement that will last a lifetime when properly placed and cared for
  • Retaining your natural face shape and smile
  • Protecting healthy bone
  • Biting naturally and enjoying virtually any food
  • Protecting healthy teeth

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