What Are Dental Implants?
A smile is perhaps the greatest first impression a person can make, so it is no surprise that we are often self conscious about our teeth. Yet no matter how much care we take, life takes a toll on our pearly whites. Over time, most of us will experience tooth decay, gum disease, and missing teeth, but many people simply accept this as a fact of aging. Luckily, recent advances in dental technology have given patients many new options that were previously unimaginable. Amongst these, dental implants are gaining popularity with both patients and dentists alike, with good reason.
Unlike other tooth replacement solutions, dental implants are actually surgically attached to the patient’s jaw, fully integrating the implants with the jawline and creating a natural look. The implants themselves are made of highly durable medical grade materials such as porcelain or zirconium. These materials create a look that not only looks like real teeth but is designed to last a lifetime. This provides the functionality and appearance of teeth without having to worry about gum disease, tooth infections or other common dental woes. Dental implants can be used to replace anywhere from one tooth to an entire mouthful. The possibilities are endless.
What Should I Consider when deciding to get dental implants?
If dental implants offer so much freedom and function, why doesn’t everyone use them? Obviously there are many factors that go into choosing any medical procedures, dentistry included. Dental fear is very common, and getting implants is a surgical procedure that can span many months time. Finding a good oral surgeon you trust and feel comfortable with is crucial and can ease both the pain and the anxiety of the process. After the initial incision is made and the implants are attached, temporary crowns are applied so that the patient cant eat, drink, and speak while the mouth heals. During the surgery itself, there are many options available to handle the pain. Though the process does involve drills and there will inevitably be temporary discomfort, it is really not much different than any dental procedure, and the results are much longer lasting. Typically, implant surgery uses a local anesthetic, leaving the patient awake, but sedation is often available if you arrange it with your oral surgeon ahead of time. Overall, patients report a minimal level of pain and a fairly short healing period, especially when considering the permanence of the results.
Dental implants are intended to last a lifetime, and caring for them is relatively simple compared to other tooth replacement methods. In fact, for the most part, dental implants are treated just like real teeth. You brush and floss, just as you’ve learned your entire life. There are no new procedures to learn, no messy washes or risk of damage from handling. This permanence also means that they look incredibly natural and function much the same as your real teeth did. Over time, the implants will actually shift and adjust to your natural jawline. What all of this means is that essentially no one ever needs to know you have implants unless you tell them. Implants allow for natural speech and regular eating habits. They allow you to resume your life, worry-free. The increased functionality and appearance will undoubtedly increase not just your dental health, but your self-esteem. Imagine a life where you can smile fully without second-guessing yourself. That increased confidence is perhaps the greatest benefit, one immeasurable by numbers.
Are There Other Options?
Of course, dental implants may not be right for everyone, and there are still other options available. Many people become so frightened of dental procedures that they allow their problems to fester and do nothing. This is definitely not recommended, as gum disease, damaged teeth, and infection can affect not just your mouth, but the entirety of your body systems. Some people might opt to pull problem teeth, but infection in one or several teeth has often already spread to other areas of the mouth, and is likely to continue to be a problem.
Missing teeth can make speech and eating very difficult, and can also be extremely embarrassing, greatly reducing one’s quality of life. Root canal is another option. The biggest reason people go with this option, is that preserves your natural tooth. The procedure is also a lot less invasive. However, even if a root canal is successful in the short term, the longterm affects may not be as consistent. Root canals often need to be done again about 5 years after the initial procedure, and if it is not successful, extraction will likely be the only viable solution at that point.
There are also a few options for nonsurgical tooth replacement. Flippers are a temporary partial type denture. They are intended to be worn for 6 months to 1 years, and can help with cosmetic concerns and eating. Because the cost of a flipper is lower than other tooth replacement options, many people try it on for size to see how they feel about it. Dentures are a more long-term solution, available both in the form of “partials”, for only some of the teeth, or “full”, which cover the entire top and/or bottom of the mouth.
While the initial procedure for dentures is less invasive, they require periodic adjustments and can actually hasten the destruction of any remaining teeth and affect taste and speech. In addition, even the best places dentures are removable, which makes them necessarily separate from your mouth and therefore decidedly less comfortable or natural than implants. Bridges can be a good compromise for those who do not want the cost or pain of surgery but prefer the longevity and stability of implants. They are very similar to dentures, but are semi-permanently placed. They do not need to be removed nightly, but do need to be update every 5-7 years, and require special cleaning and maintenance.
Overall, most dentists and oral surgeons concur that implants are the cutting edge of dental care. Being able to have brand new teeth without the risks of related illnesses is previously unheard of. The main deterrents are financial and surgical concerns. Even the surgery-phobic report very low pain and few side effects from implant procedures, and it lasts a very long time. Implants are a much longer term investment, which is reflected in the costs, but recently more insurance plans are at least partially billing for implants. Most dentists also have payment plans or third party credit companies to ensure that patients can make decisions based on more than just finances. Talk to your dentist today to see what considerations may be available based on your individual situation.