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Dental implants - a new root to a healthy mouth


June 2011

Who wants false teeth when everyone else is having implants?

dental implantsImplants today are becoming a normal dental procedure and techniques have improved dramatically from even just a decade ago. Not enough bone? Sinus problems? Today modern surgeons can overcome a number of situations that were thought insurmountable a few years ago enabling more and more people to benefit from dental implants.

Costs are also coming down meaning implants are becoming more and more a realistic option for people who for one reason or another are losing their own teeth.

It has taken a while for dental implants to come of age. It was the early 1950s that saw the real breakthrough as experimental work was intensified especially across Europe. In 1952 a Swedish orthopaedic surgeon demonstrated the excellent capabilities of the metal titanium and how growing bone has a tendency to stick to this metal, and today titanium is still key in dental implants.

Really, an implant is simply inserting a false tooth fixed into the jaw bone with a root or rod of metal. But if this sounds easy, bear in mind it has taken 50 years of intense experimentation and research to get where we are today. For a start, you can’t “stick” the root of the false tooth into the bone; the root or rod needs to fuse with the bone of the patient’s jaw so that they become totally connected. This growth of the bone onto the base rod of the tooth is called osseointegration and once completed and healed, it can be as strong as any of your other healthy teeth.

Failure to osseointegrate can happen, especially if there is not enough bone for the site of the implant. Jaws can lose bone as a result of ageing or periodontal gum disease. If you have already lost a tooth, then the area around the missing tooth can recede and the jawbone itself can start to shrink. In cases of bone loss, bone grafts are generally highly successful and involve grafting bone from one area into the jawbone to increase its width and depth. Sometimes synthetic alternatives can be used here instead. Bone grafts can be carried out under a local anaesthetic but you will then need to wait three months or more for your jaw to heal properly before you can start thinking about the implants.

Smoking can also increase the risk of problems with osseointegration.

At the moment, most dental surgeons recommend the two stage placement method for implants. This involves first the insertion of the base metal rods for the new teeth into the jaw. Then the area of gum and jaw is given time to heal properly, usually around three to six months. This helps to ensure the osseointegration process is fully complete with a strong fusion between the jawbone and the implant.

The second stage involves fixing an abutment (or screw) to the base to act as an anchor for the tooth and then to add on the actual tooth.

Implants can work for single or several teeth and the restorations will be coloured and matched perfectly to look incredibly natural.

The delay between the initial procedure and the final addition of lovely teeth is not ideal, and new techniques are being examined for what is known as “immediate placement”, when the base rod into the bone and the final tooth are all inserted at the same time.

However, most dental surgeons generally still recommend the two stage system to ensure a totally strong and healed base before the new teeth are added. Jaws are immensely powerful and when you consider the stresses put on teeth when you bite into anything hard or chewy, the concern of dentists to ensure the basic osseointegration is completed satisfactorily is understandable.

There is always a risk with implants; but today there are so many wonderful success stories that more and more people are thinking of going down this route.


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