Implant-supported teeth allow normal function of the whole stomatognathic system (“stomato” – mouth; “gnathic” – jaws) including the nerves, muscles and jaw joints. By permanently replacing missing teeth — and lost gum tissues — implant-supported teeth restore the support of the facial structures (cheeks and lips), thereby creating a more youthful appearance as well as the ability to function normally. This includes chewing tough foods, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, laughing, kissing, speaking confidently, and smiling with joy.
Dental Implants: State-of-the-art Tooth Replacement Systems
It is not an overstatement to say that permanent tooth replacement with implants has revolutionized dentistry. Implants have particularly transformed the lives of people who are edentulous (completely toothless) by giving them a solution that is a lot more comfortable, secure, and reliable than removable dentures. They also prevent the loss of jawbone density and volume that is inevitable when teeth are lost. Dental implants stabilize and stimulate the bone around them, maintaining bone dimension and strength. This is something removable dentures can't do. In fact, wearing dentures actually accelerates bone loss. A dental implant is a small, screw-shaped post that replaces the root of a missing tooth — the part that is housed in the bone beneath the gum. Implants are made of titanium, which has a unique ability to fuse to bone in a process called osseo-integration (“osseo” – bone; “integration” – to join with or fuse to). That's what makes them so sturdy and reliable. After implants are inserted into the jawbone during a well-tolerated surgical procedure, fixed bridges can be attached to them immediately that look and function like real teeth. This can be accomplished in one or both jaws in the same day.
All For One — And One “Four” All
Today's state-of-the-art implant systems enable a minimum number of implants to support a maximum number of teeth. That means as few as four implants can be used to support a full arch (upper or lower jaw) of fixed, non-removable replacement teeth. And this remarkable life-changing event can be accomplished in a single day! Success will depend on some crucial steps: When the implants are placed in the jawbone, they must remain completely immobile to allow the process of osseo-integration to occur. Any force that causes even minute movement of the implants in the early healing phase can ruin the integration process, resulting in implant failure. That's why a soft diet (no hard, crunchy or tough foods) during the first 6-8 weeks is essential. The implants themselves must be strategically placed to offer the most effective support. By rigidly connecting the new teeth to the implants, they stabilize each other. Think of this arrangement like a tabletop or chair supported by four legs — which are sometimes angled outward for maximum support. This process is not only the most efficient way to replace all the teeth, but also the most cost-effective strategy for implant-supported tooth replacement. Individual implants to replace each tooth are impractical and not recommended. Given that there are usually 28 functional teeth (excluding wisdom teeth), replacing teeth individually can be vastly more expensive and may not offer any better results.
The Process — In A Nutshell
Starting Place — The dentist takes records of your existing condition, whether you still have teeth or are wearing a denture, to determine various factors. These include how long the teeth should be, where the bite should be and how much lip and facial structure support is needed.
Diagnostics — CT scans, short for computed tomography (“tomo” – slice; “graph” – picture) produce 3-D pictures of the jawbone, including the position of the teeth to be replaced. These scans provide critical information about a person's anatomical structures (including bone, sinuses and nerves) and the ideal location for the implants.
Planning — Using computer simulation, the implants are digitally positioned in the jawbones in appropriate locations to optimally support the replacement teeth. This also allows for the fabrication of a surgical template if needed.
Precision Surgery — Surgery can be done simultaneously including tooth extractions, bone shaping, and implant placement. Skill, experience and meticulous planning are needed, particularly if the person has had significant bone loss.
Temporary Teeth — Temporary acrylic replacement teeth are attached directly to the implants via abutments — connectors that allow solid attachment to the implants. These teeth are considered temporary and are needed to facilitate initial healing; they will later be removed and replaced with permanent ones.
Healing — The temporary teeth stay in the mouth approximately 3 months until healing is completed. During the first 6-8 weeks of healing, it's a good idea to “go easy” on the new teeth, avoiding chewy or tough foods. Because implant surgery is very precise and well-planned, people generally have little post-operative discomfort and begin functioning with their new temporary teeth almost immediately.
Permanent Teeth — When the process of osseo-integration is completed, the dentist removes the temporary teeth replacing them with the permanent ones. They are generally made of stronger, more durable materials and fit the healed gum tissues more precisely. The new permanent teeth will function just like natural teeth and look beautiful, too!
The Serious Consequences Of Tooth Loss
Tooth loss has some serious consequences — particularly for older people, who are more likely to be missing teeth. When you lose teeth you also lose the bone that supported the teeth. This bone atrophies once it is no longer needed to support teeth. After the top layer of tooth-supporting bone is lost, the bone beneath it — the jawbone proper — also begins to resorb (melt away).
This leads to some serious aesthetic and functional problems, particularly in completely edentulous (toothless) people. With loss of jawbone mass, the jaws over-close, leading to a shortening of the lower third of the face known as “bite collapse.” The cheeks and lips, which are no longer supported by the teeth, become hollow. Someone undergoing this kind of breakdown loses self-confidence, feels older and can become withdrawn and avoid social situations. No one wants to kiss someone with no teeth or flopping lips! A large number of people who are aware that they are losing their teeth often fight to save them even though they may be painful, loose, infected or unsightly. But now, treatment options for replacing all of the teeth have improved dramatically. In fact they're so good that people should consider implant-supported permanent teeth replacements instead of suffering with bad teeth, poor aesthetics and limited function.
A New Reality
Improvements in implants now permit people who previously couldn't have implant dentistry, because of poor bone (quality or quantity) or expense, to get treatment. Similarly, since implant and restorative dentistry have improved so much, we can now use fewer implants to replace teeth compared to recommendations made only a few years ago. Fortunately, as a result of continued research, development of diagnostic tools and innovative treatment, predictable success is now a reality in many challenging dental situations.