Not only can a missing tooth make you feel self-conscious, it can interfere with your overall health.
Additionally, if a tooth is missing and not replaced, nearby teeth and bone can be affected. “When a tooth is lost, teeth surrounding the gap can shift, which affects a person’s bite,” says Dr. Stuart Froum, president of the American Academy of Periodontology and clinical professor and director of clinical research at the Department of Periodontics and Implant Dentistry at New York Dental University Dental Center. “This can cause a host of additional issues, including the deterioration of the jawbone.”
The good news is there are options, such as dental implants, when it comes to replacing missing teeth and preventing bone loss.
Dental Implants, Bridges and Dentures
Dental implants involve replacing missing teeth with a prosthetic, which consists of three parts: the implant, abutment and crown. The implant acts as an artificial tooth root. An abutment attaches to the implant and then a prosthetic tooth, called a crown, is placed on top.
Bridges and dentures can also be used to replace missing teeth, but implants differ in several ways. With bridges, the adjacent teeth need to be prepared to hold the crowns in place, which involves the removal of adjacent tooth structure. Since implants do not require other teeth to hold the crown in place, adjacent teeth are not affected.
Both bridges and dentures sit on top of the gum line, while implants go deeper than the gum line. The implant is a small titanium post that is surgically placed into the jawbone where the missing tooth is.
Although implants may not be right for every patient in all situations, they can have some advantages over other tooth replacement methods. For example, dental implants often last longer and are better fitting than other types of tooth replacements. Froum explains, “Though they may need to be adjusted from time to time, implants can last for life, unlike dental bridges that can last anywhere from five to 10 years. [Dental implants] are sturdy and will not loosen or fall out while a patient is eating, laughing, or speaking.”
Dental Implant Options
Not all dental implants are the same. “There are several different types of implants due to the fact there are many case types,” said Dr. Oliver Wong, DDS, owner of Johnson Ranch Dental in Roseville, Calif. One of the main types of dental implants used is an endosteal implant that is placed directly into the bone. “These are the ideal choice and the go-to implants when the case permits,” says Wong.
Sub-periosteal implants may also be used and are placed on top of the jawbone and underneath the gum line. This dental implant option is ideal for situations in which the patient has a shallow jawbone. Additional types of implants include plate-form implants and ramus-frame implants. These types of implants may be recommended in cases where a patient has a particularly narrow jawbone or a thin lower jawbone.
How Dental Implants Prevent Bone Loss
Although replacing missing teeth may be done to improve appearance, dental implants are more than just cosmetic dental care. According to the Academy of Osseointegration, when a tooth is lost, the bone that supported the tooth can gradually shrink, and significant loss of the jawbone can occur. Since dental implants are inserted into the jawbone, they act as an artificial tooth root. “Implants stimulate the bone, which prevents bone loss,” says Wong.
The implant fuses to the bone in a process called osseointegration. Once the implant is surgically placed into the jaw, the bone cells attach or fuse to the titanium. The bone grows all around the implant, which provides stability and support for the artificial tooth. This process allows the prosthetic tooth to function very similarly to a natural tooth. The implants integration into the bone, also preserves the bone tissue.
Overall, the benefits of dental implants involve more than preventing bone loss and restoring a tooth. “Implants can help people gain confidence to speak, eat and laugh normally again, which improves their quality of life,” says Wong.
- Determine if you are a good candidate for dental implants. Certain existing medical or dental conditions may make having dental implant surgery more difficult.
- Undergo a comprehensive dental exam. If you are considering an implant, a complete exam is needed to determine what type of implant may work best.
- Find a dentist who has experience doing dental implants. Not all general dentists perform dental implant surgery.