Posts for: June, 2014
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.
Is it a root canal problem, a gum infection, or both?
Sometimes it's difficult to pinpoint the source of tooth pain; it can result from an infection of the tooth itself, or of the gum, or even spread from one to the other. Identifying the origin of a toothache is important, however, so we can choose the right treatment and do all that we can to save the tooth.
When a tooth becomes decayed, bacteria can infect the sensitive, living nerve tissue deep inside the tooth known as the root canal. This condition is called an endodontic (“endo” – inside; “dont” – tooth) problem. The infection inside the tooth can spread to the periodontal ligament (“peri” – around; “dont” – tooth) that encases the tooth and attaches it to the jawbone. Occasionally, infection of endodontic (root canal) origin can spread out from the end of the tooth root all the way up the periodontal ligament, and into the gum.
The reverse can also happen: dental pain can originate from periodontal (gum) tissues that have become diseased. Gum disease is caused by a buildup of bacterial biofilm (plaque) along the gum line. It results in detachment of the gums along the tooth surface. In advanced cases, this bacterial infection can travel into the nerve tissues of the dental pulp through accessory canals or at the end of a tooth.
To figure out where pain is coming from when the source is not obvious, we need to take a detailed history of the symptoms, test how the tooth reacts to temperature and pressure, and evaluate radiographs (x-ray pictures).
Unfortunately, once dental disease becomes a combined periodontal-endodontic problem, the long-term survival of the tooth is jeopardized. The chances for saving the tooth are better if the infection started in the root canal and then spread to the gums, rather than if it started as gum disease that spread into the root canal of the tooth. That's because in the latter case, there is usually a lot of bone loss from the gum disease. Effectively removing plaque from your teeth on a daily basis with routine brushing and flossing is your best defense against developing gum disease in the first place.
If you would like more information about tooth pain, gum disease or root canal problems, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this diagnostic dilemma by reading Dear Doctor magazine's article “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
At one time people who had lost all their teeth faced a grim future. With no feasible alternative, their tooth loss severely limited their ability to eat or speak. Their appearance suffered too, not only from the missing teeth but from bone loss in their facial structure.
We’ve come a long way since then — today, it’s possible to restore complete tooth loss with a permanent set of implant-supported teeth. Unlike other options like removable dentures, implantation can stop and even reverse bone loss caused by missing teeth. And because it now only takes a few strategically-placed implants to support an entire fixed bridge of teeth, the implant option is more affordable than ever.
In essence, implants are tooth root replacement systems. The titanium post that is surgically placed within the jawbone is osseophilic (“bone-loving”), which means bone will grow and adhere to it in a few weeks to further secure it in place. A dental restoration — a single crown (the visible portion of the tooth) or an entire bridge or arch — is then cemented or screwed to the implant.
While dental implants for single teeth normally require full bone integration before the permanent crown is set, it’s often possible for an implant-supported bridge of many teeth to be set at the same time as implantation. The bridge is attached to four or more implants that support the bridge like the legs of a stool; the teeth within the bridge also act to support each other. Both of these factors help to evenly distribute the biting force, which reduces the risk of crown failure before complete bone integration. You would still need to limit yourself to a soft food diet for 6-8 weeks while the bone integration takes place, but the procedure is essentially completed when you leave the dentist’s office.
As marvelous as the possibilities are with implant restorations, it still requires a great deal of planning and artistry from a team of dental professionals to realize a successful outcome. But working together, you and your team can achieve what wasn’t possible even a few years ago: a complete set of life-like, fully functional implant-supported teeth — and a new smile to boot!
If you would like more information on implant-supported teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “New Teeth in One Day.”