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If you are missing teeth due to infection, injury or disease, you know that an incomplete smile can make you self-conscious. You may be reluctant to smile at coworkers and friends or shy away from pictures. There is no need to keep hiding, though. In many cases, dental implants can fill the gaps left behind when permanent teeth are removed, and they look as real and natural as your own teeth.

Dental Implants

(Ri_Ya / pixabay)

What are dental implants?

Unlike traditional dentures, dental implants are a permanent replacement for your missing teeth. While many refer to the whole tooth as an implant, the implant is only one part of the replacement tooth. It is an artificial root made of titanium alloy similar to the material used in knee and hip replacements. This material is very biocompatible, and very few people have allergies to it. A small connector piece called an abutment holds a crown in place on top of the implant. Together these three parts provide the look, feel, and function of natural teeth.

Who should not get dental implants?

Dental implants are an option for many patients with missing teeth, and your dentist is the best person to help you decide if they will work for you. However, there are situations where it is best to pursue other options.

  • Chronically Ill – Patients with diabetes or leukemia are not usually good candidates for this type of tooth replacement because their wounds heal more slowly.
  • Children – The jawbones of children that have not reached full maturity are still growing and changing. It is best to wait until the jaw is fully developed to consider implants.
  • Smokers – Patients who smoke may have difficulty healing from implant surgery. If you smoke, talk to your dentist about your options, including smoking cessation.

Successful dental implant surgery is dependent on having enough space for the teeth and enough healthy bone tissue to hold the implant securely in place. If your tooth extraction took place many years ago, you might have lost some bone mass in your jaw. It may be necessary to perform a bone graft before having implant surgery.

What if my dentist doesn’t recommend implants?

If your dentist doesn’t think implants are a good fit for you, you may want to consider dentures or a bridge to restore your smile. Both options can be custom fit to your mouth. Dentures are fully removable prosthetics and can replace one or more missing teeth. Dentures are available through most Utah dental offices. Bridges typically replace a tooth or group of teeth. They can be permanently attached to adjacent teeth holding them firmly in place.

How should I prepare for implant surgery?

Having dental implants placed typically involves a series of appointments. The first appointment generally is a comprehensive consultation with your dentist. She will perform an exam, take x-rays, and develop a treatment plan to meet your specific needs. She may prescribe antibiotics or an antibacterial mouth rinse to use in the days leading up to your surgery to prevent infection.

If your dentist intends to use IV sedation for the surgery, you should plan to show up for your procedure with an empty stomach. Also, make sure you have a family member or friend with you to drive you home after the surgery. In some cases, dentists may opt for local anesthesia, in which case, you may feel free to eat and drink before your appointment. Be sure to follow any pre-operative instructions your dentist gives you, as these will help the surgery go more smoothly.

What can I expect on the day of surgery?

Dental implant surgery usually takes place in a dentist’s office with an oral surgery team. At this visit, your dentist will likely plan to place the implants only. After making an incision in the gums, the dentist will place the titanium implants in the bone where your teeth’ roots would be. The gums are then closed over the implants. New bone tissue will close around the implants and bond with them over the coming months, creating a secure foundation for your new teeth.

After the surgery, you can expect some swelling, bruising, pain, and mild bleeding. All of these symptoms should resolve over time. While you are healing, your dentist will probably suggest that you eat a soft diet to allow the incisions to heal and avoid infection. If you are concerned about how your mouth is healing, call your dentist’s office.

When will my implants look like natural teeth?

When your dentist is confident that the bone has healed and is holding the implants securely in place, they can add the crowns. Each crown can be custom-made to fit your mouth and look like your teeth. An abutment is placed over the post of the implant. This piece holds the crown to the implant.

Dental implants are not susceptible to decay in the same way as your natural teeth. However, you are still at risk for gum disease, bad breath, and other types of oral infections. To keep your new teeth clean and ward off other oral hygiene problems, you should still brush and floss regularly and visit your dentist for check-ups.

In some cases, the whole process, from placing the implants to adding the crowns, can all be done in a single day, but that is not the best plan for every patient. Some patients will require more time to heal between steps. No matter how your dentist chooses to proceed, the result will be the same – a new set of pearly whites that you can be proud to show off.