Ordinary bridges and dentures aren't always comfortable or even a possible option for some dental patients. In those cases, implants may be the solution.
Globally, about 30 percent of people over age 65 have no natural teeth – or as the specialists say, they are ‘edentulate’. No matter how good your oral hygiene routine, ageing catches up to all of us eventually—and when it comes for your mouth, it’s good to know your options.
Dentures have been, and remain, the go-to option when it comes to losing teeth in old age; but removable artificial teeth come with their own care and comfort problems. However, advances in modern medicine and technology mean there are now more solutions, and one of the most popular is dental implants.
See Also: How to Keep Your Teeth and Gems Healthy
What are dental implants?
Implants are a long-term solution for replacing missing teeth. Made up of a titanium screw attached to a false tooth, implants are surgically placed directly into your jawbone where they provide an artificial replacement for the missing tooth.
Although there are “part set” dentures which replace one or a few missing teeth, dentures are often used as a solution for replacing most or all teeth. In situations where a denture might not work—such as in a younger patient who had a tooth knocked out in an accident, in an older patient whose mouth has shrunk too much to accommodate dentures, or for someone who would prefer not to deal with something removable—implants can provide more flexibility.
Dental implants are also a more permanent option than dentures. As long as you care for your implant properly and practice good oral hygiene, they can last as long as natural teeth. Dentures, in comparison, tend to last for around five to 10 years, and as dentures are made to fit your mouth exactly, they can become less comfortable over time as your mouth changes shape.
Dental implants are quite an investment, both in terms of time and money, with each one costing several hundred pounds, and done properly they take a long time to do, involving a series of procedures over a period of three to six months. Your dentist will help you decide what implant option is best, and then take measurements to order the correct size.
Endosteal implants are the most commonly used and are attached directly to the bone in your jaw, recreating the natural root of the tooth.
Zygomatic implants are used when the patient needs upper jaw implants but does not have enough bone in their jaw—the implants are instead connected to the zygomatic bone, or cheekbone. This is a complex and uncommon procedure.
The third type of implant is subperiosteal, where the implant sits on top of the bone but underneath the gum.
Dental implant surgery is relatively uncomplicated and is usually done under local anaesthetic. The recovery process is similar to that of having wisdom teeth removed—patients should eat a soft diet for a few days and be careful when brushing the affected area.
The implants themselves will take between two and six months to bond with the bone, after which the false tooth, typically a crown or bridge, fit on top.
Implants are usually only available privately, and they are certainly an expensive option. A single tooth implant can cost anywhere between £700 and £3,000. They are sometimes available on the NHS for patients who can’t wear dentures or whose face and teeth have been damaged, such as people who have had mouth cancer or an accident that’s knocked a tooth out.
Although the initial cost of implants can be more expensive than other options, don’t forget that implants are a long-term solution and the benefits are likely to last a lot longer
Getting an implant isn’t always the right option, even if it seems like an attractive solution. Whether you’re a good candidate for implants depends on many factors, including which teeth are missing as well as the condition of your remaining teeth and gums.
There are several other options when it comes to replacing missing teeth, such as full or partial dentures and bridges. And for any of them, it’s imperative to speak with a dentist before making a decision.
Implants aren’t suitable for anyone under 18, as the underlying bones are still growing. However, in general, dental implants are suitable for most adults who are in good health and have healthy gums. Your dentist may not recommend implants if you are a smoker, have had radiotherapy to your jaw area, have diabetes or suffer from gum disease. Tell your dentist about any medical problems you have, and they’ll let you know if implants are for you.
This feature was originally published in the winter edition of Live to 100 with Dr Hilary Jones, which you can read here