If you've lost one or more teeth, there are a number of solutions available. In particular, dental implants are a standout option, and have been developed over the last several decades to provide an effective, aesthetic and permanent alternative to dentures or bridges.
What are Dental Implants?
Dental implants are artificial teeth that are placed into the jaw, made to look, feel and perform like natural teeth. They are made of small titanium screws which are inserted into the jawbone where teeth are missing.
Dental implants replace the roots of missing teeth and are integrated with your jawbone to provide a firm foundation to support single crowns, large bridges and dentures.
Dental implants can be used to replace one tooth, several teeth or a whole arch.
What are the Benefits of Dental Implants?
As an alternative to dentures or bridgework, dental implants have a number of benefits:
- Are a permanent and fixed solution
- Feel and look like natural teeth
- Allow you to eat without pain
- Can improve your speech, as you don't have to worry about the possibility of teeth slipping
- May improve your smile and self-esteem
- Are firmly fitted into the jaw, and unlike dentures avoid the need to remove them
- With adequate care will last a lifetime
- Avoid having to cut or reshape healthy neighbouring teeth
- Unlike dentures or bridges, avoid the need for specific care routines or cleaning products
- Promote improved oral hygiene practices, as they allow for easier access between teeth
Who Can Have Dental Implants?
If your gums are healthy and you have enough bone to hold the implant then you are a suitable candidate for dental implants.
Routine flossing, brushing twice daily and regular dental visits will ensure you have good oral hygiene so that plaque and calculus won’t develop.
If you have had radiation therapy to the head or neck area, smoke, have diabetes or heart disease, we recommend that you talk to your periodontist or prosthodontist, who will be able to assess if dental implants are appropriate for you.
You may benefit from dental implants if you:
- Are missing one or more natural teeth
- Find wearing dentures uncomfortable
- Have teeth that require replacing due to irreparable damage
- Find eating foods difficult without natural teeth, and have to compromise your diet
- Have advanced gum disease
- Do not want neighbouring teeth moving into the area where there is tooth loss
- Fear that your facial appearance may be negatively impacted by a loss of teeth
Types of Dental Implants
There are two main types of dental implants; endosteal and subperiosteal. The type of dental implant that your doctor will recommend to you will largely depend on the size of your jawbone:
The mostly commonly used implant is the endosteal implant. This type of dental implant is shaped like a screw and placed deep within the jawbone, in the place of a tooth root. Acting as an artificial tooth root, endosteal implants adhere to your jawbone to provide a firm foundation for your new tooth replacement.
Endosteal implants are normally made of metal, ceramic or titanium, and tend to be used for patients with a wide or dense jaw.
Subperiosteal implants are another type of dental implant, attached above or on the bone, and underneath the gum tissue. This differs to an endosteal implant, which is inserted into the jawbone.
Subperiosteal implants are metallic and recommended for those with a shallow jawbone, or an insufficient amount of healthy jawbone for an endosteal implant.
Alternatives to Conventional Dental Implants
Dental Implant Bridge
If you have multiple missing teeth, fixed bridgework may be the best treatment option.
When installing a dental implant bridge, two or more dental implants will provide the support structure for a bridge made up of crowns and pontics (replacement teeth).
Dental implant bridges get rid of the need for a removable partial denture or a long-span conventional tooth bridge, providing an alternative that is functional and doesn't look out of place.
Complete Full-Arch Teeth Replacement
If you have severely damaged or irreparable teeth, or are missing all your teeth, a full-arch replacement could be hugely beneficial. A number of such treatment options - in which several replacement teeth are held up by a bedrock of implants - are available:
Implant-Supported Fixed Prosthesis
An implant-supported fixed prosthesis or a dental implant bridge may be a suitable treatment option if you require complete teeth replacement.
Dental implant bridges involve four or more dental implants used as pylons in support of a complete set of replacement teeth. Permanently fixed inside the mouth and unable to be removed on your own, implant-supported bridges are an aesthetic option that are just as functional and comfortable as regular teeth.
This type of denture is attached to your dental implants via locators or press-studs. Implant overdentures provide improved stability and retention over conventional dentures, facilitating better speaking and chewing ability. For patients without teeth, implant-retained overdentures offer a solid and cost-effective solution.
Implant-Supported Bar Overdenture
Implant-supported bar overdentures attach to a metal bar that supports them by linking the dental implants. Not only does this treatment option offer superior stability and retention over the implant-retained overdenture, it also improves support, the force of your bite, and adds to your comfort. It is the ideal option for patients seeking a removable yet secure teeth replacement.
Understanding All-On-4 Dental Implants
All-on-4 dental implants (sometimes mistakenly referred to as all-in-4) refer to a specific dental implant technique, in which a set of 4 implants replace the upper or lower set of teeth.
All-on 4 allows you to immediately replace your dentures while bypassing the prolonged procedure involved in installing regular implants. All-on-4 provides a full set of teeth that are identical to the look, feel and bite of natural teeth.
The new implants are placed into a high bone density area of the jaw known as the anterior maxilla, which enables them to be angled up to 45 degrees, enhancing the level of support while enabling patients with bone deficiencies or a lack of jawbone to forego any need for a costly bone grafting procedure prior to a conventional implant procedure.
As well as being cost-effective, the minimally invasive nature of the procedure makes the healing and recovery time for All-on-4 dental implants significantly shorter than regular implants or dentures.
What is Involved in Getting a Dental Implant?
There are five main steps in the dental implant process:
- Consultation – formulation of a tailored treatment plan to best suit your needs
- Preliminary Treatment – this may involve extraction of any previous treatment, grafting to improve the jaw structure, or gum treatment to remove any infections prior to implant placement.
- Implant Installation – this is where the implant is placed into the jaw.
- Healing Phase – most cases take around 2-3 months to heal. A temporary replacement tooth can be organised so that your smile will not be affected throughout the process.
- Implant Crown – your dentist will finalise the implant crown onto your implant.
Implants consist of 3 components:
- Crown – a replacement tooth.
- Abutment – a device that connects the crown to the fixed implant.
- Implant – a biocompatible titanium device that is fused into the jaw bone.
In some cases, instead of an artificial tooth, an implant can be fitted with special clips or attachments (similar to press-studs) to replace multiple teeth or hold a denture. Success rates for dental implants are high, at around 95%.
The overall implant process can take from 3 – 6 months and is performed over 2 or 3 stages.
What Happens During a Dental Implant Procedure?
The implant is inserted into the bone and then the gum is stitched closed. Within 7-10 days the stitches will be removed and the implant is allowed to integrate (become fixed) into the bone. This could take between 3-4 months.
Once healed an impression for a post (abutment) is taken for the manufacturing of an implant crown.
Radiographs (x-rays) are also taken to ensure that the abutment will be placed correctly.
The abutment and implant crown are fitted around two weeks later. Another radiograph is taken to make sure that the implant crown is correctly seated in the dental implant. The final restoration is made, taking into account strength and aesthetics.
A month later your dentist will check that the bite is comfortable and that the implant is stable. It is important that you have your implant checked every 6 months to make sure that everything is still stable.
Dental Implant Recovery
The recovery time after a dental implant surgery can vary based on a number of factors - primarily, the number of teeth needing replacement, whether you required bone or gum grafting, the condition of your jaw bone pre-surgery, and whether you require further surgeries.
Many people are able to go back to work the day after surgery - particularly if they have only had one or two teeth replaced. For larger procedures, however, you may feel more comfortable returning to regular activities between a few days and a few weeks after your surgery.
In general, the overall healing process can take between 3-6 months.
Caring For Your Dental Implants
To look after your dental implants and keep them free of bacteria and plaque, it is important that you:
- Brush at least twice a day
- Use a soft bristle toothbrush
- Avoid smoking (for a minimum of two weeks)
- Avoid sugary foods and drinks
- Floss at least once a day
- Visit your dentist every 6 months for regular check-ups and cleans
Plaque and calculus can lead to gum inflammation, infection and bleeding gums which may affect the stability of your implant.
Properly maintained implants that are anchored by sufficient bone can last for many years, however like all other dental appliances some maintenance is required to prevent any damage to the crown or implant itself.
Regular check-ups (twice yearly) and cleans are important to ensure that plaque and calculus don’t develop on your natural teeth or your implant and to prevent gum inflammation.
Risks of Dental Implant Surgery
As with any surgical or invasive procedure, dental implant surgery carries potential complications and risks, which may include:
- Infection around the implant site
- Injury to surrounding teeth or blood vessels
- Nerve damage
- Sinus problems
- An allergic reaction or nausea as a result of the anaesthetic
While any such problems are rare and a dental implant procedure is generally considered safe, it is important to be aware of them and consult with your dentist before undergoing any treatment, as they will be able to provide you with detailed information on any potential side effects and ensure the surgery goes as smoothly as possible.
Cost of Dental Implants
The amount you pay for a dental implant treatment depends on several factors, namely the type and extent of treatment required, the level of anaesthetic, location, and healthcare.
The cost of carrying out a dental implant will include each of the steps from the initial consultation through to the materials and instruments used.
Some patients manage their payment by spreading them out in instalments, and if you have private health insurance with 'major dental extras' included, you may also be eligible to claim part of the cost back.
Australian Dental Specialists aim to provide the highest quality treatment available - for a detailed estimate and to find a solution that suits you, don't hesitate to get in touch with us.
Does Medicare cover the cost of a dental implant treatment?
Unfortunately, Medicare does not cover some dental services, including dental implants, as it does other health services.
You may, however, be covered by private health insurance if you have an extras policy with 'major dental' included.
Are there age limits for dental implants?
There is no upper age restriction on who is eligible for a dental implant, and they can be placed on anyone who has gone through adolescence or when bone growth is complete.
Can I get metal-free implants?
Virtually all teeth replacements available have some type of metal in the materials they are made of.
The titanium alloy that makes up the majority of dental implants is highly biocompatible, meaning an allergic reaction to it is highly unlikely.