In this month’s Teeth Talk article, Senior Dentist Dr. Jeffrey Field explains all you need to know about dental implants, demystifying the terminology and various modern treatment options available to help you restore your smile.
Dental implants are titanium screws that replace missing teeth, or can be used to help anchor dentures more securely.
There are many options for missing teeth including dentures, porcelain bridges and implants.
Dentures are pieces of plastic or plastic and metal composites that look like teeth but that is where the approximation ends. They will never be as functional as your natural teeth, because, unlike your natural teeth dentures are not anchored to the bone.
Partial dentures have clasps on existing teeth to help hold the denture in place, but the dentures still can and do move with eating or speaking.
Full dentures are used when patients have no teeth. They rely suction between the denture and the empty gums to hold them in place. So as you can imagine, full dentures are not very secure during eating and talking.
A bridge is used to replace missing teeth where there are still teeth present on either side of the empty space. In this case the teeth on either side of the space are prepared for crowns, which means they are cut down in all dimensions. The crowns on the end teeth are attached to fake porcelain teeth in the middle, thus replacing the missing teeth. The problem is that crowns are meant to rebuild very damaged teeth. Often to provide a bridge we must cut down perfectly or relatively healthy teeth, thus permanently damaging them. Once a bridge is placed, over time you get recession of the gums or decay/cavities on the margins of the crowns, necessitating replacement of the bridge. As such the teeth your bridge are attached to get longer and less aesthetic over time. The gum recession and or cavities continue until you lose the teeth that the bridge is attached to. So now you have lost 3 teeth minimum (the two end teeth plus the original missing tooth).
An implant is a free standing (does not rely on other teeth for support) and so if it fails you still have only lost one tooth unlike a failed bridge where you lose several teeth. Implants are titanium screws that are placed in the bone. Implants can be used to support crowns for single to multiple teeth or as bridge supports for longer spans of missing teeth. For patients missing all teeth in the upper, lower or both arches, implants can be used to help secure full dentures and make them more stable (move less).