Maybe you've seen some marketing material for dental implants featuring smiling, silver-haired seniors. Perhaps this made you think that implants are a tooth replacement system that's primarily intended for older adults. If so, let's change that impression right now: Dental implants are suitable for almost all adults, not just older folks!
Today's best option for tooth replacement, implants can help most people who suffer from the problem of missing or failing permanent teeth. (In children, however, where the jaw is still growing, implants aren't generally used.) Of course, it is our goal as dentists to preserve as many of the natural teeth as possible. But when that isn't possible, implants offer the best option for tooth replacement.
The Implant System
What makes the dental implant system such a great option for replacing lost teeth? Let's start with the implant itself. This small, screw-shaped device is made of titanium metal, which has a unique property: When placed in the jaw, in a minor surgical procedure, it becomes fused with the living bone tissue. This provides a solid anchor for the visible part of the replacement tooth, the crown, which is attached to the implant by a connecting piece called an abutment.
Because the implant is securely fixed in the jaw, it provides the replacement tooth with a firm foundation that won't come loose — and it doesn't depend on other teeth for support, like bridges do. It also stops the process of bone loss, which occurs in the area of the jaw where a missing tooth was formerly located. The erosion of bone, which begins as soon as a tooth is lost, can create the appearance of premature aging, and may eventually lead to further dental problems.
Why You May Need Implants
Older folks aren't the only ones who experience tooth loss; younger people suffer from this problem too. Accidents and injuries are one cause, whether they are sports-related, or result from habits like biting pencils or grinding teeth. Lifestyle may be another factor. Poor nutrition, excessive consumption of sugary substances (including certain “sports” and “energy” drinks), and the lack of proper dental hygiene and professional care can allow moderate problems to get much worse.
A major cause of tooth loss is disease, such as tooth decay or periodontal disease. These can be a problem at any age. But a few conditions may cause serious dental problems in younger people — bulimia, for example. When stomach acids enter the mouth, they can rapidly erode the tooth enamel. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can create similar problems.
When Should You Get Implants?
Preserving your natural teeth whenever possible is a major goal of modern dentistry. But when teeth can't be saved, it's time to consider implants. While they are initially more expensive than more traditional tooth replacement methods (like bridges or removable dentures), they can last for the rest of your life with only routine care. That's something no other method can claim, and it makes them a great value, especially for younger people. Plus, they feel completely natural and look great.