Our latest blog in the Treatment Focus series looks at implants: what they are, what they’re made of, when are they needed, and how long do they last?
What is an implant?
An implant is a false tooth which is made up of a titanium screw which is screwed into the jaw bone, and a false tooth which is held in place by the top part of the screw. When placed into the jaw bone, the bone will grow around the screw and bond with it as if it were part of a normal tooth. One screw can support several false teeth – there is no need to have one implant for every missing tooth. Implants have many advantages over alternatives for replacing missing or irreparable teeth; they behave like natural teeth, and won’t slip or move like a bridge or denture can. They also do not require the adjacent teeth to be altered, unlike when a bridge is fitted. With a bridge, the adjacent teeth need to support the anchoring crowns and therefore may need to be drilled down to fit the crown. They also help maintain jawbone tissue, as the titanium screw imitates the root of a natural tooth, sitting directly in the jawbone. This prevents the bone deteriorating or shrinking, as can happen when the root of a tooth is missing.
What are implants made from?
The anchor part of the implant – the screw – is titanium. Titanium is a very light, strong, and corrosion resistant material so it is perfect for this application as it is unaffected by acids and alkalis from food/drink and also able to withstand the impact of chewing.
The tooth part of the implant is usually made from ceramic material, and designed to look like a natural tooth. Ceramic can be matched to the colour of the existing natural teeth. It also matches the qualities of natural tooth enamel in that it is hard-wearing, light and strong.
When is an implant recommended?
There are many options for replacing a badly damaged or missing tooth. Whilst implants can be used in most cases, but they are just one of a number of options. The best course of treatment will depend on your personal circumstances.
In adults over the age of 18 who are in good health and have healthy gums, implants can be considered as a suitable treatment. They are not suitable for younger adults or children as the bones are still growing, or for adults who have/have had certain medical problems or treatment in the past.
Unfortunately, implants are not usually available on the NHS – only privately, except in very rare occasions.
How long do implants last?
If cared for, implants can last as long as 25 years or more, sometimes as long as your natural teeth. They are designed to be a long-term, permanent tooth replacement, unlike other treatments, which may only last 5 to 15 years before they need replacing.
What is the process for getting an implant?
Most implants are fitted under local anaesthetic, meaning that the patient is awake during the procedure. Once the anaesthetic has taken effect, the dentist will cut the gum and make a small hole in the jawbone for the screw part of the implant to fit into. Next, an abutment needs to be fitted – this is a fixture which is attached to the titanium screw which holds the false tooth in place. This can either be done at the same time as the screw is fitted, or at a later date once the first part has had a chance to heal (usually after a few months).
Next, the false tooth is fitted to the abutment, usually after the bone has healed and the implant has settled in place.
Depending on the circumstance, having an implant fitted – from initial consultation to full recovery – will take several months and multiple dental appointments and procedures. Your dentist will be able to advise on the length of process and what appointments you will need according to your specific situation if you choose to follow this course of treatment.
How do I care for my implants?
After each procedure you will most likely need to rest until the anaesthetic has worn off. Try to avoid hot food or drink in this time – you may burn yourself without realising. As the anaesthetic wears off you might start to feel discomfort. If this is the case then you may wish to take some over-the-counter pain relief.
In the first week after your surgery you’ll need to eat soft foods to reduce irritation to the area. Your dentist may also prescribe you antibiotics and/or an antiseptic mouthwash to try and prevent any infection.
As your recovery progresses you’ll need to go back and see your dentist so that they can check that it is healing properly.
Once your jaw and gum has healed and the false tooth attached, caring for the implant is much the same as for your natural teeth; brushing and flossing regularly as you normally would, although you may need to spend a bit more time and attention than before.
Once fully recovered your implant and replacement tooth should work the same as your natural teeth, so you’ll be able to eat and drink as normal.
How can I get an implant?
Unfortunately implants aren’t usually available on the NHS. If you require treatment for a damaged or missing tooth, and are considering an implant, you’ll need to see a private dentist. They will then assess the problem, make suggestions regarding different courses of treatment, and help you compare their different aspects so that you can make an informed decision. This may include other treatments as well as implants, as there is usually more than one course of action possible for treatment in any circumstance.
If you are certain that you would like a dental implant to treat a damaged or missing tooth, your dentist will be able to talk you through what you can expect, costs, implications and timelines.
For more information please contact us or book an appointment to talk to Malcolm Harbour about dental implant treatment.