In Science and medicine, discoveries big and small often come about by complete surprise, and sometimes from very unlikely places. Modern implant dentistry owes its existence to one such accidental discovery. For the extraordinary history of dental implants and the phenomenon of osseointegration when bone fuses with implant surface, click here.
To help better understand implants, let’s first get familiar with the basics. Dental implants, also known as fixtures, are screw-shaped posts made of metal or ceramic materials that are surgically inserted into the jawbone—they are therefore also called endosseous (in-the-bone) implants. Their function is to replace the root portion of missing teeth and are used to support artificial abutments and crowns to function and look like real teeth. Thus, a complete "implant restoration" has three components: implant, abutment, and crown.
More often than not, implant therapy is a better alternative to traditional removable prosthetics (dentures) and fixed prosthetics (bridges) for replacing missing teeth. When it comes to dentures, no matter how good the fit is they tend to move around, especially when eating, and can cause pain and ulcers. Worse yet, long-term use results in significant bone atrophy—when the jawbone gets smaller and thinner—a problem that only gets worse over time. A fixed bridge is cemented onto existing teeth, and can look and function very well; however, this comes at the price of cutting down adjacent teeth and removing up to 70% of tooth structure. Furthermore, a bridge can be very difficult for the patient to clean and maintain; and this can lead to root decay and bone loss at and around the anchoring teeth.
Obviously, dentures and bridges still have their places in dentistry; however, the use of implants can largely overcome the above-mentioned disadvantages of these traditional methods. First of all, in the case of a single tooth replacement by an implant crown, you can brush and floss just like a natural tooth; whereas a bridge is essentially multiple crowns made as one piece, and you would have to thread a floss underneath it to clean out food debris and bacterial plaque. Secondly, not doing a bridge spares those adjacent teeth from being cut down. Lastly, and best of all, when you eat and chew with implant crowns the force is transmitted down into the jawbone, and this stimulatory effect has been shown in research to maintain bone density and therefore results in less atrophy.
Modern implant dentistry has become increasingly sophisticated since its early days. Whether it is a single missing tooth or complete edentulism (all teeth are lost), implant therapy can be used successfully in a wide variety of clinical situations. The concept of All-on-4®, for instance, quite literally revolutionized full-mouth rehabilitation allowing complete restoration of chewing function and achieving superior esthetics all at the same time.
It’s estimated that more than 5 million implants are being placed by dentists each year in the United States alone. Overall, implants have a success rate of over 95%. In recent years, rising demand resulted in more implants being placed by dentists. While this trend is great news for patients, it must also be pointed out that there is evidence for an increase in peri-implant diseases and implant failures. Some common mistakes could be due to inadequate training and lack of experience on the part of dentists.
Wherever you go for implant treatment, we advise that you do your own due diligence and find the dentist or surgeon with the right credentials with whom you are comfortable. As a US Army veteran with over 10 years of service, our in-house specialist Dr. Sheldon Lu is board-certified by the American Board of Periodontology in periodontics and implantology. An active member of the distinguished Academy of Osseointegration, Dr. Lu uses only top-quality implant systems from reputable multinational companies such as Nobel Biocare.
If you are thinking about getting dental implants from the best in class, give us a call and book your first consultation appointment.