An alternative to dentures, dental implants (small dental appliances that are inserted into the upper and lower jaws) help to restore the mouth by replacing individual missing teeth or supporting a bridge or denture. Dental implants are slowly replacing dentures as they provide many advantages over traditional dentures.
For some people, particularly persons with loose or poor fitting dentures due to flat ridges, or persons with multiple missing teeth who need support for crowns and bridges, implants may be considered a more appropriate alternative to fix the appearance of missing teeth than dentures. According to the American Academy of Implant Prosthodontics, implants help to accomplish the following:
- Reduce movement of dentures, bridges, and/or crowns
- Facilitate proper chewing
- Provide support and improved stability for removable dentures or fixed bridge work
- Approximate the "feel" of natural teeth better than dentures
- Promote "denture self-confidence", as speech and appearance are often improved
There are many variables to be considered before placing an implant:
- A proper diagnosis must be made before an implant can be placed.
- The patient must be healthy.
- The patient must have healthy gums and adequate bone to support the implant.
- Health conditions that may affect the patient's ability to heal must be considered, as they may impact the success of an implant.
- Behaviors like heavy smoking and drinking may affect the successfulness of an implant.
- The patient must be committed to meticulous oral hygiene and regular dental visits after receiving the implants.
The two most common types of dental implants in use today are:
- Endosteal implants (most common)
This type of implant is inserted into the jaw bone to serve as the tooth's root.
- Subperiosteal implants (less common)
This type of implant, usually an option for persons who can no longer wear conventional dentures, involves a lightweight, specially-designed, metal implant that fits directly on the existing bone.
Dental implants may either be inserted by a general dentist specially trained in implantology, a periodontist, or by an oral surgeon in a hospital.
According to the American Academy of Implant Prosthodontists, implants are made of biologically compatible materials which have undergone extensive testing over a period of several years. Since these materials are largely metals, such as titanium, and have never been living tissue, there is no likelihood of causing an antigen-antibody response which could cause rejection similar to that which sometimes occurs with heart and kidney transplants.