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Dental Implants

The Basics

Definition. A dental implant is a surgical fixture placed in the bone in order to replace a tooth that is missing. Most modern dental implants are made of either a titanium or bioceramic material, which health-conscious patients tend to prefer.

Benefits. The most obvious benefit of a dental implant is that it is fixed in the mouth, more closely mimicking a natural tooth than a bridge or partial denture. Through a process called osseointegration, the bone locks in around the implant to secure it, allowing the patient to chew, talk, brush and floss as they would with a natural tooth. Unlike a dental bridge, a dental implant does not require the cutting of adjacent teeth.

The most important benefit of an implant is that it preserves bone. When teeth are lost, the surrounding bone wears away, which increases with time and after a while, the face may begin to take on a sunken appearance. When an implant is placed, the bone is engaged and does not wear away.

Risks. Like any surgical procedure, there is the risk of prolonged bleeding and the potential for infection, both of which can be treated. There is also a risk that the implant could fail to integrate with the bone and the procedure would have to be repeated. Also, due to increased risk, special consideration must be taken for people with high sensitivities and multiple major allergies, although the bioceramic implant is still a great option for them.

The ideal candidate for a dental implant is someone with healthy gums and bone. Good oral hygiene is a must, because too much plaque and bacteria can interfere with the osseointegration process. People taking bisphosphonate drugs (osteoporosis medication) can be at risk for bone death in the area of the oral surgery, a risk which is higher if the drug is administered intravenously. Prolonged steroid use also affects the structure of bone. Neither heavy smokers nor patients with uncontrolled diabetes are good candidates for dental implants.

Process. First, an evaluation is conducted to determine if there is enough bone to support the implant. If not, surgical techniques may be planned to supplement the bone that is present. The patient’s health is also reviewed to discover any conditions that could jeopardize the success of the implant surgery.

Then, the implant is placed. Many patients remark that the surgery is actually much simpler and quicker than they thought, and the healing process is usually not difficult for the healthy patient. A period of four to six months is usually needed for the bone to grow around the implant and secure it. During this time, a retainer may be worn to protect the implant from forces such as chewing, speaking and the movement of the tongue, so that the implant can successfully integrate with the bone. Once healing is complete and the implant is secure, a custom crown is made and cemented on top of the implant.

Overall, dental implants are a great solution for missing teeth. Like any dental procedure, there are risks, but the benefits are numerous and the success rate is very high. Implants may not be ideal for some people because of medical, anatomical and/or financial reasons, but for the majority of healthy individuals, they could be the next step toward achieving their ideal smile and maintaining a healthy mouth.

Dr. Udoka Holinbeck practices holistic dentistry with an emphasis on biological and biomimetic dentistry. She is an associate dentist at Integrative Dental Solutions, located at 23770 Capitol Dr., Pewaukee. For more information, visit wiNaturalDentist.com or call 262-691-4555.

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