I - Implants (A to Z Challenge April 2014)

Implants are frequently the best treatment option for replacing missing teeth. Rather than resting on the gum line like removable dentures, or using adjacent teeth as anchors like fixed bridges, dental implants are long-term replacements that your dentist surgically places in the jawbone.

If you are missing several teeth in the same area of your mouth, your dentist will place two or more dental implants, depending on the number of teeth that are missing. Your replacement teeth will be attached to the implants to allow excellent function and prevent bone loss. The implants will serve as a stable support that tightly locks into your replacement teeth and dentures to prevent slipping and bone loss.

The key benefit of dental implants over tooth replacement systems is that an implant connects directly to the jaw bone. It's obviously not the same as the original connection, but functions just the same. When a tooth is lost, bone loss will eventually occur in that region because the root is no longer stimulating and stabilizing the bone. By using a titanium implant, which biochemically joins to the bone, to replace the root, we get a bond that replicates the one found in nature.

When you lose a tooth, especially a back tooth, you may not feel the need to replace it, since it is not visible. But there is more bone loss going on under the surface once a tooth is lost. When a tooth is lost, the surrounding bone melts away. Besides causing damage to the immediate area, tooth loss affects remaining teeth as well. Loss on one tooth can cause a shift in the surrounding teeth, creating esthetic issues and bite problems. A lost tooth can affect facial structures like the jaw, muscles, joint and skin. Loss of several teeth can lead to poor nutrition and loss of self confidence.

A dental implant designed to replace a single tooth is composed of three parts: the titanium implant that fuses with the jawbone; the abutment, which fits over the portion of the implant that protrudes from the gum line; and the crown, which is created by the dentist and fitted onto the abutment for a natural appearance.

Many people who are missing a single tooth opt for a fixed bridge; but a bridge may require the cutting down of healthy, adjacent teeth that may or may not need to be restored in the future. Then there is the additional cost of possibly having to replace the bridge once, twice or more over the course of a lifetime. Similarly, a removable partial denture may contribute to the loss of adjacent teeth.Further, conventional dentures may contribute to the loss of bone in the area where teeth are missing.