How Do Dental Implants Work?

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dental implantEven if your teeth are healthy, you probably know something about dental implants. You may know someone who has one, or you’ve seen a diagram showing how small screws are placed in the jaw to support prosthetic teeth. The science behind dental implants is fascinating, and understanding how they work can help you know your options if you ever need to replace a tooth.

A Better Class of False Teeth

For centuries, prosthetic teeth have always been the kind that fit over the gums and only stay in place via suction and sheer willpower. About 30 years ago, however, we discovered that it was possible to replace the whole tooth, crown and root. This better replicates the function and feeling of natural teeth. How does it work? It’s all possible because of the way our bones grow.

We tend to think that once we are adults our bones stop growing, but that’s not the case. Bone tissue is living tissue and it’s constantly in the process of building up and breaking down. If you’ve ever broken a bone, you know that bones grow back together when they are properly reset and stabilized. The only catch is that bone growth requires a few months of your time.

Dental implants are placed via small holes drilled into the jaw. Most implants look like tiny screws because the beveled surface offers many small crevices for new bone tissue to grow into. In the 3-4 months after dental implants are placed, new bone tissue slowly forms around the implant, thus stabilizing it and fusing it with the jaw bone. This process is called osseointegration. When complete, the implant is as stable as a natural tooth root and a prosthetic crown can be attached.

How Dental Implants are Used to Replace Teeth

For missing teeth in otherwise healthy mouths, a single tooth can be replaced with a fixed implant-and-crown combination.

When three consecutive teeth are missing, two implants can be used to support a bridge construction. Partial dentures may be attached to two or more implants, and a full arch of dentures can be attached to only four implants.

Implant-supported dentures offer many benefits over traditional dentures: they feel more natural, stay in place when you eat, and prevent jawbone loss over time. Implant dentures are usually fitted with a snapping mechanism that allows for easy removal, but holds them in place even when eating resistant foods, like corn on the cob.

Requirements for Dental Implants

Patients who are in a good state of oral and overall health can usually get dental implants. If you are interested in implants, we will go over your dental and medical history to make sure you are a good candidate for this treatment.

Some patients may need medical procedures before they can get implants. When teeth are lost, the body starts a slow process of breaking down the jawbone. That’s why you sometimes see that “shrunken chin” look on older people who wear dentures. For patients who have gone without teeth long enough for jawbone resorption to occur, bone grafting may be required to boost bone mass before the jaw can support dental implants.

In rarer cases, a patient’s facial anatomy may preclude implants due to the position of the sinus cavity. If a 3D facial scan reveals that an upper implant may intrude upon the sinuses, a procedure called a sinus lift may be recommended.

What to Expect with Dental Implants

As mentioned above, bone growth does take some time. For this reason, the timeline for getting dental implants is usually about three to six months. Implant surgery is fast and straightforward, but the implant must go through the process of osseointegration before it is stable enough to hold a prosthetic tooth or denture.

During the months after implant surgery, patients must rest, get proper nutrition, and take very good care of their bodies to promote healing and bone building. Once we have determined the implant is properly fused with the jawbone, the prosthetic can be made.

At Metropolitan Dental Care, Dr. Steve Law and our awesome team of dentists can provide dental implants for single or multiple tooth replacement. If you’ve lost one or more teeth, call Metropolitan Dental Care at 303-534-2626 to learn more about dental implants. Schedule your consultation at our Denver, CO or Lone Tree, CO dental office today!


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