Article written by Written by Zawn Villines on CareDash.com
Time, gum disease, low access to dental care, and lifestyle habits can destroy teeth and gums. About 178 million Americans are missing at least one tooth, and 40 million are missing all of their teeth. Missing teeth can make chewing difficult, and they can affect a person’s appearance and self-esteem. They can also change the structure of the jaw.
For centuries, people with missing teeth had to resort to dentures. The advent of bridges offered a more permanent solution. Both strategies left people missing teeth with holes in their gums where the roots of teeth might otherwise be. Dental implants fill these holes with permanent fake teeth that do not decay like real teeth. They boast a 98% success rate, making them a good option for many people who are missing teeth or struggling with jaw issues related to lost teeth.
What Are Dental Implants?
Dental implants replace missing teeth with permanent fake teeth that look just like real teeth. Unlike dentures or bridges, implants are anchored into the gums by a titanium screw. This screw acts like the natural tooth root.
By replacing the missing tooth with a synthetic tooth and root, it may be possible to prevent surrounding bone structures from changing with time. Doing so can preserve the structure of the face, prevent jaw pain, and even help with issues such as grinding teeth. For most people, however, the primary benefit of dental implants is that they replace missing teeth, restoring their appearance and making it easier to chew.
“Dental implants are not susceptible to decay but are susceptible to periodontal disease,” said Dr. Ayad. “They need the same home care as natural teeth, and also professionally maintained at regular dental visits, and checked with x-rays annually.”
The Process of Getting Dental Implants
The process of getting dental implants begins with a comprehensive evaluation and treatment plan with your specialized dentist, such as an oral surgeon, periodontist, or prosthodontist.
“Preparation has several steps,” said M. George Ayad, DDS, a Diplomate for the American Board of Periodontology and periodontist in Hackensack, NJ. “First a review of medical history to insure the patients' medical conditions or medications don't create a contraindication to routine dental implant placement.”
Your medical history may also affect the type of anesthesia the doctor uses, so it’s important to disclose everything.
“Next, a CT scan of the jaw bone to determine if there's adequate bone volume or need for augmentation prior to placement,” said Dr. Ayad. “Finally and probably most importantly, a consultation with the restoring dentist to determine the position to place the implant(s) to receive the crown(s) that works best with the patients' bite.”
Your dentist will discuss with you whether any teeth need to be removed and which procedures must be done before the implant surgery. For instance, some people may need to remove old dental crowns, while others may need treatment for chronic gum disease. If you need a bone graft, this procedure will be done before surgery. It can take several months for the bone graft to heal.
On the day of surgery, you’ll need to avoid food and drink. Depending on the method of anesthesia you choose, you’ll either be awake but unaware and in no pain, or totally unconscious. Your surgeon will make a cut into your gums to place the dental implant. When you wake up, there will still be a gap where the tooth was. The doctor can place a temporary denture. You’ll get a permanent implant when bone grows around the screw, which can take several weeks or months. After the bone grows in and the permanent implant is put in place, you’ll have new, permanent teeth.
“Immediate post-op care includes the use of anti-inflammatory medication, antibiotics, and an antimicrobial rinse as outlined by most accepted protocols,” said Dr. Ayad.
After the screw is placed, you may have pain and sensitivity for several days. Some people experience jaw pain or get headaches radiating from the jaw. Medicine provided by your dentist can help control these symptoms.
Benefits of Dental Implants
Dental implants make it easier to chew, and they can boost self-esteem by replacing missing teeth.
“Success rates are high,” said Dr. Ayad. “Depending on the area of the mouth they're placed, the long term success rates are 92-98% at 35 years. [They are] slightly lower for smokers and some uncontrolled medical conditions.”
In addition to the benefits of replacing lost teeth, many people prefer dental implants to bridges and dentures because:
Drawbacks of Dental Implants
Dental implants are implanted directly into the bone underneath the gums. The procedure is more invasive than other options for treating tooth loss, which presents several drawbacks, including:
To be eligible for dental implants, a person must have healthy gums. For people with gingivitis, it may be necessary to undergo many months of treatment first, which can mean spending more time with missing teeth. A patient must also have enough bone to support the dental implant. Those without enough bone must either choose another option or have a bone graft.
For many consumers, the most significant drawback of dental implants is the cost. Costs typically range from $3,000 to $6,000 per implant. Insurance plans rarely cover dental care, especially implant dentistry, which is typically classified as a cosmetic procedure. Even people with dental insurance may not have coverage for implants, since most dental insurance programs operate as discount cards, not actual insurance.
Affordable Dental Implants
Affording dental implants can be difficult since most insurance plans won’t cover the implants as this is typically considered an elective procedure. Some providers will, however, cover removal of damaged teeth, x-rays, and other procedures to assess oral health.
“Cost can be a limiting factor especially if dental insurance carriers don't cover some of the cost,” said Dr. Ayad. “That is something that patients may influence by asking their employers to include implants as a covered expense in their dental plans.”
Many dental implant providers offer payment plans, which allows you to pay off the implants over time. For people who can’t afford to make upfront payments, this option may be a good one. Some dental implant providers offer discounts for multiple dental implants at once. So if you have several missing or damaged teeth, it’s often best to get them replaced at the same time.
You may also be eligible to receive dental implants at a lower cost at a dentistry school, where dental specialists in training can perform the procedure under the supervision of professionals in an oral surgery clinic. However, not everyone is eligible to receive lower-cost dental implants from a dentistry school, and there may be a long wait list. Inquire at a dental school near you to find out if you are eligible and how long the wait might be.
If the cost of dental implants is out of reach for you, you may consider cheaper alternatives. Partial dentures and bridges are more affordable and more likely to be covered by dental insurance. It is important to remember that these options are impermanent and tend to require replacement and maintenance. Over time, implants may be the cheaper tooth replacement method depending on what your insurance covers.
Dental implants offer a chance to replace missing or broken teeth, often with a single surgery. They can protect bone health, and they may last a lifetime. But they’re not for everyone. Talk to a dentist, prosthodontist, or oral surgeon about whether this option may be right for you.