Dental implants - Introduction

Implant cutawayWhat is a dental implant?

A dental implant is an artificial replacement for a tooth root, usually made from titanium. There are many different implant systems available and when competently used they all deliver a highly reliable form of treatment. The main aim during the placement of any implant is to achieve immediate close contact with the surrounding bone. Over time further growth of bone onto the implant surface enhances the stability of the implant.

In order to support replacement teeth, dental implants normally have some form of internal screw thread or post space that allows a variety of components to be fitted. Once fitted, these components provide the foundation for long-term support of crowns, bridges or dentures.

Who is suitable for dental implants?

Dental implants are suitable for most adults with good general health. They can only be used once the jawbone has stopped growing and so generally are not used with younger patients.

Habits such as heavy drinking or smoking can increase the number of problems associated with initial healing and thereafter may be bad for the long-term health of gum and bone surrounding each implant. Some dentists will decline to place implants if smoking cannot be reduced or given up altogether.

However, each case is different and if you do have any medical problems then speak to your doctor or dentist prior to starting any treatment – it is only in some circumstances that health problems prevent the use of dental implants altogether.

How will you know if you are suitable for implants?

At your initial consultation the dentist will assess the feasibility of providing implant treatment. You will be expected to answer detailed questions concerning your medical history and there will be a complete examination of your mouth and remaining teeth to discover the nature and extent of any current dental problems. Usually x-rays will be taken and models of the teeth prepared so that these can be examined after your visit.

These x-rays and models will be used to determine the optimal position for an implant, how many implants can be placed in the gap and the quality and volume of bone that is available.

Establishing good basic dental health is a key stage in any treatment plan. At this first appointment you should be made aware of which problems are urgent, and what treatment is required to stabilise any gum- or tooth-related problems. It would be reasonable to expect a verbal outline of how your particular implant treatment might be approached.

Do you need to have a healthy mouth?

When you first enquire about dental implants it is often in response to an awareness of ongoing dental problems or the recent loss of teeth. The cause of these problems will need to be understood and treated before undertaking implant treatment. If you have a history of gum disease then you have a higher likelihood of having problems with dental implants.

If you are aware of bad breath, loose teeth, or have noticed excessive bleeding, particularly when your teeth are cleaned professionally, you may have gum problems. Gum disease (periodontal disease) is a major cause of bone loss, and with reduced bone dental implant treatment can be more complicated but not impossible.