What are Implants?

Dental implants are a means of replacing missing teeth. They are small fixtures, usually made from the metal titanium, that are placed into the jawbone and integrate with the bone to provide a solid support for a crown, bridge or denture. A single implant may be used to replace one missing tooth, or if a number of teeth are missing then multiple implants can be used. Even if all teeth in the mouth are missing, implants may still be used as an alternative to a conventional removable denture. In this case implants are used to retain fixed bridgework or to support a solid bar onto which a denture is firmly held.

  • When replacing a single tooth, the major benefit of placing an implant is that it stands alone and does not require preparation of adjacent teeth, as would be involved in some types of bridgework – see Patient Information on Prosthodontics. This is especially important if (1): the adjacent teeth are unfilled or have only small fillings (in which case the preparation of the teeth needed for conventional bridgework can sometimes cause the nerves to die in the longer term) (2): the adjacent teeth are unsuitable to support bridgework.
  • For single or multiple missing teeth, implants can avoid the need for a removable denture. Dentures can make dental hygiene procedures more difficult and some people have trouble getting used to the bulk of denture material in the mouth.
  • Full dentures supported with an implant-retained bar are much more stable than those that rely on suction or tongue control alone. This makes eating and talking easier for those who find their conventional dentures move around or are loose.

Are they suitable for everyone?

Prior to going ahead with implant treatment, an assessment needs to be made of the quality and quantity of the bone in the proposed implant sites. This will involve a clinical examination together with X-rays. While most situations will be suitable for implants, there may be those where implants are not the best option for treatment – the specialist will discuss the reasons for this.

What is involved in the treatment?

The implant itself is placed into the pre-determined site in the jawbone during a minor operation, usually under local anaesthetic. A period of time, which may be up to six months, is then needed to allow the implant to integrate with the bone. After this time the implant is uncovered and a crown, made to look natural and blend in with the adjacent teeth, is made up by a dental laboratory to attach to the implant. In the case of a full denture, ball-ended attachments can be placed on implants which grip fixtures on the underside of the denture, or a metal bar is fixed to two or more implants and a full denture made with a special attachment to firmly grip the bar.

How successful are they?

Dental implants have now been in use for many years and can show 10-year success rates of over 90% in favourable situations. It is important to the success of implant treatment that regular monitoring is carried out and that good oral hygiene measures can be maintained.

Are they expensive?

Treatment with dental implants is generally more expensive than the alternatives of bridgework or dentures, largely due to the cost of the materials used and the exacting nature of the treatment. However, the advantages that implants offer in certain situations can make them the treatment of choice for the long term. A detailed treatment plan with costs will be discussed at the consultation visit with the Implantologist.

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