Dental implants are strong, medical-grade metal posts that are implanted into the jawbone where they fuse with the bone and act as a tooth root to secure an artificial tooth or crown. Dental implants are designed to look, feel and work just like a natural tooth, making them a popular alternative to bridges and partial dentures. Implants can also be used to secure dentures to make them more comfortable and to prevent embarrassing slippage.
The implant procedure usually takes three separate office visits. At the first visit, the implant post is placed in the jaw bone. If the jaw bone is very thin, it may be supplemented with additional bone material in a bone graft procedure which may be performed at the same time. Once the post is implanted, it’s left alone for several weeks while it fuses with the natural bone during a process called osseointegration. At the second office visit, a second piece called an abutment is attached. The abutment connects the post with the artificial tooth. An impression will also be made and sent to the lab where the crown will be created. At the third visit, the crown is attached to the abutment and carefully adjusted for a secure and comfortable fit.
In addition to being more secure and more “natural-feeling” than a bridge or denture, dental implants also help stimulate the replacement of jawbone tissue to prevent bone atrophy that typically occurs once the tooth root is removed. Over time, atrophy can lead to additional tooth loss. Implants can prevent additional tooth loss by promoting continual replenishment of healthy bone. Because bridges and dentures rest on top of the gums, they can’t act to promote bone tissue replacement, which means patients are at a much greater risk of additional tooth loss in the future.
With proper care, including brushing, flossing and routine trips to the dentist to ensure the gums around the implant stay healthy, a dental implant can last as long as a natural tooth.