Before we get into the amazing benefits of dental implants, let’s firstly clarify what they actually are. Dental implants are essentially tooth root replacements, supported by the jaw bones (either upper or lower jaws) that allow dental prosthetics (single teeth; bridges or dentures; facial reconstructive prosthetics) to be held rigidly in place. The implants act as bone anchors to stabilise the teeth and prosthetics in your mouth. Implants are most often placed within the jaw bones (root shaped implants that directly replace the position of teeth) or in the cheek bones (zygomatic implants) when bone loss from the jaws has been severe.
Modern implants connect with bone via a process called ‘osseointegration’; a process whereby bone cells grow onto and form a direct contact with the surface of the implant. This implant to bone contact is very strong and is used to provide a rigid and secure attachment point for teeth, bridges and dentures. This reliable, long-term solution then allows for the creation of tooth replacements that serve to optimise form (facial appearance, smile aesthetics, lip support), function (restoring chewing ability, improving speech and hence self-confidence) and limit further bone loss from the jaws.
What Are The Main Benefits of Dental Implants?
Dental implants in many cases have longer lifespans and higher rates of success when compared with alternative dental treatment options. Implants are made from commercial-grade titanium, which is extremely well tolerated in humans and facilitates the creation of teeth that look and feel completely natural; as close to what your own teeth were once like as is currently possible. Unlike the traditional tooth bonded bridges that required adjacent teeth to be reshaped or ‘ground down’ to fit, dental implants are self-supporting and don’t damage the adjacent teeth. Dental implant retained teeth feel much more comfortable than dentures and don’t have the ‘mouth filling’ bulk that most dentures have. Implants firmly fix the teeth into position and won’t let the teeth slip and slide even if there is significant ‘gum shrinkage’ (periodontal disease and bone volume loss).
Dental implants can also help preserve jawbone volume that is lost over time when no teeth are present. Because the implants directly connect and stimulate the underlying jaw bone, bone loss is minimised. The lack of stimulation that occurs when you lose a tooth causes the supporting bone in the jaw to dissolve (which is called bone resorption). As gum tissue and bone shrink away, the distance from the chin to the nose (the vertical height of the face) reduces; prematurely ageing the smile and face as a result.
Patients with teeth retained by dental implants are able to function better and enjoy a much wider range of foods, like nuts, apples and steak. Whereas standard dentures not only limit the individual’s choice of foods, their larger size means that more of the mouth tissue (especially the roof of the mouth or palate) is covered by the denture, thus reducing the real taste and enjoyment of eating and drinking.
Other dental implant benefits include:
- They are predictable and can be placed easily on both awake or asleep patients
- They represent the best option to achieve teeth that are the closest possible replacement to natural teeth
- They help maintain the vitality and shape of your smile and face
- They allow you to return to a more varied and normal diet
- They are comfortable, improving both appearance and function and reinforce self-esteem
- They don’t damage your existing teeth and in most cases, your remaining natural teeth will last longer
- They can be used to support and stabilize existing ill-fitting dentures
- They enable tooth replacement to be positioned more like your own teeth and thus enhance function and appearance, so you can enjoy eating and social interaction
Implants can be arranged to suit various patient needs and each type of implant has some different benefits. The different types of dental implants are explained below.
Single Tooth Dental Implant (Teeth in a Day, Implant Crowns & Implant Retained Prosthetics)
A single tooth dental implant is a fixed, freestanding tooth replacement; it consists of a crown (the visible part of the tooth) attached to an implant (which is embedded in the jaw bone, like the root portion of a tooth).
The advantages of dental implants of this kind include:
- There is a high success rate (97-98% success)
- It looks and feels like a natural tooth and is not noticeably different to your existing teeth (no movement, no pain)
- It doesn’t do any damage to the adjacent teeth (tooth bonded bridges require the neighbouring teeth to be irreversibly reshaped with drills)
- It can be cleaned and maintained the same way as your remaining natural teeth
If multiple teeth are missing they can be replaced with either multiple implant-supported single crowns or implant-supported hybrid bridgework. The advantages of multiple teeth dental implants are similar to those of single tooth dental implants.
Implant Supported Bridgework (Implant Retained Hybrid Bridges, All-On-Four, All-On-Six & Zygomatic Implants)
Implanted-supported bridgework is often referred to as a fixed bridge (a run of teeth side by side) and unlike partial dentures, they don’t need to be removed on a day to day basis. A dental bridge replaces a number of missing teeth with a single bridge (crowns held together side by side; the missing teeth are ‘bridged’ by contact with supporting teeth at either end of the span). Traditional tooth borne bridgework consists of two crowns (one on each end of the span) joined by a run of prosthetic teeth (otherwise known as pontics).
The crowns normally sit on the reshaped healthy teeth at each end of the span, with the pontic teeth joined to the crowns at each end. If the span is too long or a patient doesn’t have a healthy tooth to support the ends of the bridge, a dental implant (or implants) may be used to replace the missing teeth and thus avoid the need to reshape the existing healthy teeth.
Some benefits of dental implants of this type are:
- They are solidly fixed to the jaw bones (bonded tooth borne bridges can become loose if the glue fails or the tooth roots fracture)
- They feel quite natural (the implant retained hybrid bridges are positioned in the same sites where the teeth once were, thus creating a very natural appearance and trouble-free feel and function for patients)
- The implant retained hybrid bridges are more resistant to attack from dental decay (caries) as there is no native tooth structure left behind to decay.
Dental Implant Supported Dentures (Implant Retained Over-Dentures; All on 4; All on 6; Zygomatic Implant Retained Dentures)
Dentures will become necessary when a patient presents with both loss of numerous teeth AND loss of tooth-supporting jaw bone; this situation is commonly a result of having lost the teeth many (greater than 10) years ago. The loss of the teeth (even when a denture is provided very soon after) results in jaw bone loss (bone resorption) over time; this bone loss is then ‘replaced’ with pink plastic on the denture and progressively more and more pink plastic is needed (each time the denture is renewed) to compensate for the ongoing bone loss.
Implants can stabilise and support dentures and the options available (either fixed or removal by the patient) are selected based on the individual patient requirements. Fixed implant over-dentures are attached to the jaws via screw connection to the implants; these dentures can be removed by your specialist or dentist for cleaning, repairing and maintenance, but can’t (and generally don’t need to be) removed by the patient themselves.
Implant Retained Over-dentures can also be designed to be removable by the patient, as some patients will prefer this feature; the dentures are solidly attached to the implants for daily function but can be removed or unclipped by the patient to attend to maintenance and cleaning of the dentures out of the mouth.
Between four to six implants are placed in the upper jaw, the denture is then remodelled to incorporate either fixed (screw) or removable (semi-fixed) devices to connect to the implants and support the denture. The remodelled denture is then screwed or clipped into place (often on the same day – ‘All on four’; ‘All on six’) and the patient doesn’t have to go without teeth for any period of time during the treatment.
Fewer (three to four) implants may be used in the lower jaw to stabilise dentures; these implant retained prosthetics are supported by a combination of tissue (gum) contact and implant support.
Bone Grafting and Teeth Replacement Or Dentures
If a patient has been without teeth for an extended period of time, it is likely that their jawbone has receded (resorbed or shrunk in volume). The jaw bone dissolves because it doesn’t receive physical stresses (through speaking and chewing) that would normally be applied to it from having teeth. Dentures by themselves (without contact to the jaws via implants) don’t prevent the loss of jaw bone volume and the longer a patient has had a denture replacing missing teeth, the more advanced bone loss will become.
Teeth and implants both stimulate jawbone growth. When jawbone is severely resorbed, it becomes thin, meaning it can’t support any dental implants. The jaw bone can be reconstructed to allow for successful implant placement, but will likely need more bone volume (bone grafting) as part of treatment.
As Specialist Surgeons, the team at Dental Implant & Specialist Centre can provide many options, assistance and treatment to deal with even the most difficult presenting problems. Many of these procedural options will have rebates available through both Medicare and health funds, thus making treatment more affordable.
Ready to embrace the benefits of dental implants? Contact the experts at the Dental Implant & Specialist Centre today on (07) 5503 1744.