Dental implants are one of biggest breakthroughs in Dentistry in the last 40 years. The implant acts just like a root of a tooth, is very well accepted by the jaw bone, and not prone to decay. They can develop gum problems around them if they are not cleaned well. However they may be one of the longest lasting options that modern Dentistry can offer.
Teeth can be replaced in a variety of ways: removable partial dentures, fixed bridges, and implants can all be used. Missing teeth can cause a variety of subtle, longer term problems if not replaced.
Partial dentures are removable (that is, you can take them out) and so are not very similar to natural teeth. A fixed bridge involves placing a crown on the teeth either side of the missing tooth, and then a single piece “bridge” is cemented into place. If the adjacent teeth would benefit from having crowns done, then a bridge can be a good option. However, we don’t like to prepare “in tact” teeth just to place a bridge.
The main advantage of implants over bridges is that the adjacent teeth don’t need to be altered to place an implant. Also, the replacement tooth isn’t joined to the natural teeth, so you can floss and clean like normal, and it looks and feels similar to a natural tooth.
Implants can also be used to anchor loose dentures, or if enough implants are placed then dentures can be avoided entirely, replaced by an “implant supported, fixed prosthetic”.
When a tooth is removed, there is an ideal period of 6 weeks – 3-4 months in which to place the implant. Implants can certainly still be placed after that period (even many, many years after a tooth is lost) however as time goes by more bone is lost from the area where the tooth was, and bone augmentation procedures can be more expensive and more involved than a simple implant placement. “Socket preservation” or “ridge preservation” can be done at the time of tooth removal to help maintain as much bone as possible, making later implant placement simpler.