Generally, an artificial tooth or bridge attached to the underlying jawbone.
Many older Americans have lost some or all of their teeth. For them, there is an alternative to removable dentures, fixed bridges, and missing teeth - dental implants. Implantology has become one of the most popular areas of dentistry.
Unlike conventional crowns and bridges, which rely on remaining teeth for support, a dental implant consists of an artificial tooth or bridge attached to the underlying jawbone. First an anchor (usually made of titanium) is surgically embedded or placed on top of the bone. Most often this procedure is done under local anesthesia on an outpatient basis. Then, one waits for up to six months for the bone to grow around the anchor and hold it firmly in place; meanwhile, one can wear a temporary denture. Sometimes, the post that will hold the replacement tooth is already attached to the anchor when it is implanted; other implants require additional surgery to attach the post to the anchor later on. After the gums are healed, the artificial tooth or teeth are finally attached.
Implants can replace one or more teeth, provide support for a partial denture, or be used to attach a full denture. The implanted tooth cannot be removed by the wearer, who treats it like a natural tooth and can expect it to last for a decade or more. Dental implants are likely to be more comfortable, convenient, and stable than dentures, but for many people who can manage well enough with conventional crowns, bridges, and dentures, the disadvantages may outweigh the advantages.
Treatment is long and hard - implantation usually requires two operations, each lasting one to three hours depending upon how many implants the patient is receiving. Surgical complications - in addition to the usual risks of a surgical procedure, implantation can cause infection of the gums or bone and can damage the roots of neighboring teeth, the nerves leading to the lip or the sinus cavity. Skilled dentists rarely encounter these complications, but you face significant risks in the hands of an inexperienced practitioner.
- Implants may fail - the biggest risk of this procedure is loosening or fracture of the implant.
- The device may not fit snugly into the socket drilled in the bone or it may fail to bond with the bone.
- Infection after surgery may destroy the surrounding bone or there may be too little bone to withstand the stress of chewing.
- Implants are hard to maintain - while implants will not constantly remind you that you are wearing false teeth, you cannot completely forget about them.
- The gum does not hug the artificial tooth as tightly as it hugs a natural healthy tooth, so the chance of local inflammation is greater than normal.
- You need to clean the implant more carefully than you would a natural tooth.
- You may also need to see your dentist for a checkup and cleaning more often than the usual twice a year.
- Implants can be expensive.