If you are considering dental implants to replace broken or missing teeth, there’s something important to know. Dental implants are only successful if there is enough bone to secure the implant. Bone loss most often is the result of periodontitis or tooth loss.
At South Charlotte Dentistry, we want you to do your best to maintain a healthy mouth now so that if the time comes that you need dental implants, you will have the best case scenario. If you are considering dental implants in the near future, you need to learn more about how to better ensure implants will work for you.
What Are Dental Implants
An implant is a titanium “root” which is placed into the jawbone in order to support a crown, bridge or denture. Ceramic crowns, onlays or veneers address the appearance of the “new tooth.” Over time, the human body completes the process, by growing bone and tissue around the tooth. This provides the artificial implanted tooth with even more stability and permanence.
Each implant stands on its own unlike traditional bridgework, which relies on the teeth next to it for support. Because it stands on its own, an implant can actually save the teeth around it, as they don’t have to be altered to accommodate the implant.
Are Dental Implants Right For You
Dental implants can be an option at just about any age, as long a patient has healthy gums and adequate bone to support the implant and is committed to maintaining basic oral care. Implants do not require any more care than one would provide for natural teeth, such as rinsing, flossing, and brushing a few times a day.
- Are you insecure about your smile due to missing teeth? No matter the reason for the missing teeth (or tooth), if you find yourself hiding your smile, this is an indicator that you should consider dental implants.
- Do you avoid eating certain foods because it hurts when you chew? The pain you feel when eating your favorite food could be due to dead, decaying, or infected teeth. And you don’t have to continue living this way. After consulting with your dentist you could find that the teeth need pulled and replaced with dental implants.
- Are you tired of the continual maintenance and discomfort of your current dentures or bridges? Imagine not having to clean your dentures anymore, or never having to schedule recurring appointments to have your dental bridge readjusted!
Benefits of Implants versus Dentures and Bridges
- Durable — Take care of your implants and they will last forever.
- Permanent — No messy adhesive. No embarrassing slippage. Implants are comfortable and part of you. No removal necessary!
- Natural Look — Because they are designed to fuse with your bone, implants look and feel like your own teeth. You’ll brush and floss just as you do with your own teeth, so caring for them isn’t complicated.
- Easier Eating — People who have missing teeth, sensitive teeth, or dental prosthetics such as dentures or bridges may need to avoid eating certain foods. Dental implants can make it easier to eat with more security and stability.
- Improved Confidence and Self-Esteem – You’ll want to show off your beautiful smile. According to a 2016 report from the North Carolina Oral Health Collaborative: Poor oral health can significantly diminish quality of life in a number of ways – the most obvious being a person’s ability to eat, sleep and speak. However, there are also social and economic consequences that can impact a person’s job readiness and performance, and ultimately the economic stability of communities. A survey of North Carolina adults revealed that the impact of oral health on job readiness is greatest among those from low-income households.
How Dental Implants Work
Treatment generally is a three-part process that takes several months, according to the American Dental Association:
Step 1) The dentist surgically places the implant in the jaw, with the top of the implant slightly above the top of the bone. A screw is inserted into the implant to prevent gum tissue and other debris from entering. The gum then is secured over the implant. The implant will remain covered for approximately three to six months while it fuses with the bone, a process called “osseointegration.” There may be some swelling, tenderness or both for a few days after the surgery, so pain medication usually is prescribed to alleviate the discomfort. A diet of soft foods, cold foods and warm soup often is recommended during the healing process.
Step 2) The implant is uncovered and the dentist attaches an extension, called a post, to the implant. The gum tissue is allowed to heal around the post. Some implants require a second surgical procedure in which a post is attached to connect the replacement teeth. With other implants, the implant and post are a single unit placed in the mouth during the initial surgery. Once healed, the implant and post can serve as the foundation for the new tooth.
Step 3) The dentist makes a crown, which has a size, shape, color and fit that will blend with your other teeth. Once completed, the crown is attached to the implant post.
Why Bone Loss Matters
The portion of the jawbone that supports our teeth is known as the alveolar process. According to the National Institute of Health, several studies have found a link between the loss of alveolar bone and an increase in loose teeth and tooth loss.
Bone loss in the jawbone happens as a result of periodontal disease or tooth loss.
In the case of periodontitis, bacteria gradually eat away at the underlying jawbone and periodontal ligaments that connect the tooth to the bone. Teeth may become loose and eventually come out either by accident or because there simply is no health tissue left to hold them in place.
Signs and symptoms of periodontitis can include:
- Swollen or puffy gums
- Bright red, dusky red or purplish gums
- Gums that feel tender when touched
- Gums that bleed easily
- Gums that pull away from your teeth (recede), making your teeth look longer than normal
- New spaces developing between your teeth
- Pus between your teeth and gums
- Bad breath
- Loose teeth
- Painful chewing
- A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
A missing tooth also will cause bone loss. Whether a tooth is missing because it was removed or fell out, the underlying jawbone no longer experiences the pressure and stimulus of chewing that preserves it. Once a tooth is missing, 25 percent of bone underneath it is lost in the first year.
Think of a dental implant’s titanium root that is placed into the jawbone much like a screw you would use to hang a very heavy picture on the wall. That screw needs to be firmly embedded in the wall to hold the picture’s weight.
Putting a dental implant into healthy bone is like driving that screw right into the building stud — it’s not going anywhere! However, trying to put a dental implant in where there has been bone loss is like putting that screw into thin, old sheetrock. There’s not enough thickness to the wall to hold the screw in place, and when you hang the picture, its weight places stress all around the screw and the wall breaks apart and the picture falls. When there’s too little bone and not enough material into which to drive the screw, the screw could potentially go all the way through the bone into the sinus cavity. That’s not a good thing!
Replacing missing teeth with full or partial dentures doesn’t really solve the problem of bone loss because dentures put a very small amount of chewing pressure on the bone compared to natural teeth. Plus dentures can actually accelerate bone loss by slowly rubbing away at the jawbone much like how you see worn spots on old steps or handrails after years of use.
How to Treat Bone Loss
In cases where bone has already been lost, bone grafting might be needed to provide enough bone for dental implant placement. A bone graft not only replaces lost bone, it also stimulates the jawbone to regrow and eventually replaces the bone graft with the patient’s own, healthy bone.
When your upper back teeth have been removed, the ridge bone resorbs and the sinus cavity expands, so that eventually the bone separating the sinus cavity and the oral cavity is very thin. In a sinus lift, the sinus is raised by gently pushing up the membrane lining the sinus away from your jaw and packing in bone graft material into the space where the sinus cavity was.
You can take steps to prevent bone loss throughout your body now.
- Eat a well-balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.
- Engage in regular physical activity or exercise. Weight-bearing activities—such as walking, jogging, dancing, and weight training—are the best for keeping bones strong.
- Don’t smoke, and limit alcohol intake.
- Report any problems with loose teeth, detached or receding gums, and loose or ill-fitting dentures to your dentist and your doctor.
- Brush your teeth for at least two minutes twice a day — in the morning and before bed — and floss at least once a day.
- See your dentist or dental hygienist regularly for cleanings, usually every six to 12 months. If you have risk factors that increase your chance of developing periodontitis — such as having dry mouth, taking certain medications or smoking — you may need professional cleaning more often.
Note that is has not been found that treatments for osteoporosis have any beneficial effects on oral health and bone loss.
What To Do If You’re Considering Dental Implants
Talk with your dentist about your oral health. With a careful evaluation of your current oral health and imaging to look at what’s going on beneath the gums, you and your dentist can discuss your options and come up with a plan.
Do all that you can to get your teeth and gums in the best health possible — talk about the deep cleaning of a dental scaling and planing, consider whether an electric toothbrush will make brushing more fun or using a waterpik be better than not flossing at all.
In the event that you have bone loss and want to proceed with dental implants, you can begin the process of treating the bone loss through grafting or sinus lift.
Take a renewed dedication to oral health and focus on your overall health too! For healthy living and for healthy teeth and gums, think before you eat and drink.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Eat a variety of foods from each of the five major food groups, including: whole grain; fruits and vegetables; lean sources of protein such as lean beef, skinless poultry and fish, dry beans, peas and other legumes; low-fat and fat-free dairy foods
- Make smarter decisions by chewing sugarless gum, avoiding sodas, putting down the sticky or hard candies
At South Charlotte Dentistry, we’d love to talk to you about your oral health and how we can help you achieve the smile you deserve. Contact us today to schedule an appointment. We are open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday, 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. Call us at 704.759.0908 or visit us online at southcharlottedentistry.com to make an appointment.