Lately I have had many patients ask me about dental implants. There are advertisements on TV and online that can confuse patients with statements that contradict each other. Let's take a look at some of your questions:
What Are Implants?
An implant is simply a titanium screw/peg that is placed inside your jaw bone. A porcelain tooth can be placed onto the implant to replace a tooth you have lost. Also, dentists can place multiple implants into a jaw and replace all the teeth with a special denture that stays connected to the implants.
How Are They Made?
Most of the implants I place are used to hold one tooth. The whole procedure can be done with just a regular local anesthetic like novocaine. The implant is carefully placed into the jaw bone. Placing an implant can be tricky because of the shape of the jaw and the nerves, blood vessels, and other teeth inside.
To make it simple, I use my 3D Cone Beam Computerized Tomography machine to make a three dimensional image of the jaw(s). Using special software, I can pretend to place the implant. On my computer screen is your jaw, a variety of implants, and design tools to line everything up. When I like what I see, I send the "virtual surgery images" to a dental laboratory where they can 3D print a plastic jig called an "implant surgical guide." The guide fits on your teeth like a sports mouthguard. It has a hole in it that allows me to line up the implant just right during implant placement surgery. After the implant is in place, the guide is removed. (In 2018, we should be able to get our own 3D Printer to make the guides right here in the office.) Designing your teeth with the 3D virtual surgery and placing the implants with a guide based on that virtual surgery is the world's safest, most reliable way to place implants. And we have this high-tech equipment right here in little ol' Batavia.
What's the Procedure Like?
Sometimes a tooth can be attached to the implant on the same day that the implant was put in, but this is rare. Having the tooth attached at "day one" requires that the implant be placed into really hard, healthy bone. It is not common for people's jaws to be strong enough to hold the implant AND tooth on day one because the jaw bone was weakened by the removal of the teeth. So what we usually do is place the implant and wear a temporary tooth for 5 months, which allows the bone time to heal onto the implant and get strong. For those patients who are receiving a whole denture, it is much more common (but not universally possible) to place the denture on the same day you get your implants, because there are 6 or 8 implants holding everything. Usually in these cases the implants are splinted together for strength with a custom metal bar that is imbedded inside the denture.
What Are Mini-Implants?
Patients ask me about mini-implants that they see mentioned in advertisements and online. In my office we only place real implants that are proven safe, effective, and versatile. Mini implants (any implant with a diameter smaller than 3mm) can break under the stress of chewing. They also loosen up and fail within years. Regular implants can last a lifetime, and often do. The money you save by settling for a mini implant is often lost when the implant fails, usually within 5-10 years. That is not to say that regular implants do not fail...
How Long Do Implants Last?
Every patient that receives an implant in my office has been told about implant failure. Implants fail when they get infected with a form of gum disease. This is preventable by brushing and flossing your implant supported teeth just like your real teeth. The risk of losing an implant is low - statisticians tell us that one in ten implant patients will have an implant fail within the patient's lifespan. This may sound troubling, but it's still better than teeth. Each of your natural teeth is six times more likely to fail (cavities and gum disease) than an implant is. So really, your implant supported teeth are your strongest, longest lasting teeth, statistically speaking. Ironically, patients always talk about how well they care for their implant(s), when it is their teeth that are at much more risk!
Everyone, let's just brush the natural teeth and the implant supported teeth twice a day for two minutes and keep them ALL healthy, OK?