by Dr. Michael Vold

Dental implants are tiny screws, typically made of titanium, that are used as a replacement for missing tooth roots. Designed to fuse with bone, they provide the foundation for replacement teeth, including crowns, bridges and dentures.

The loss of a tooth can not only make smiling uncomfortable, it can also cause problems with chewing, and biting. Tooth loss also affects the jawbone. Without the tooth, the bone starts to shrink and will become brittle over time.

One of the primary reasons for tooth loss is tooth decay. Plaque builds up in the mouth when teeth aren’t brushed and flossed regularly or properly. The plaque contains sugars and acids that eat through tooth enamel, resulting in cavities. If the deterioration isn’t stopped, the damage can lead to the loss of teeth.

Tooth loss also occurs from periodontal disease, which causes gum tissue to recede. Gum disease in its early stages (gingivitis) can be treated. If the infection progresses, it can result in the loss of connective tissue and bone. More than 75% of U.S. adults currently have some form of periodontal disease.

Accidents involving major impacts, such as falls, sporting injuries and auto accidents, can cause tooth loss as well.

According to recent studies, most Americans will have lost an average of 12 teeth by age 50, and one out of every four people will have lost all of their teeth by the time they reach 60 years of age.

Dental implants are extremely durable and considered a permanent solution to the loss of a tooth. Because the implant fuses with the bone, you no longer have to be concerned about bone loss or gum recession.

The dental implant procedure involves several steps. First, any remaining pieces of the missing tooth are removed. A small hole is then drilled into your jaw where the screw will be placed. Once the screw has been inserted, a protective cover is placed on top. This part of the procedure is generally conducted with a local anesthetic. It can take from three to six months for the screw to anchor itself in to the jawbone, after which the post is attached to the implant. The last, restorative part of the process involves taking impressions to create a prosthetic tooth that will be attached to the implant.

Sometimes a jawbone isn’t thick or strong enough for the procedure, in which case bone grafting may be needed. The grafting process involves transplanting a bone piece from another part of your body to your jawbone. A bone graft can take several months to heal.

The success rate for both upper and lower jaw implants is extremely high. Once the entire process is completed, your implant teeth will feel and look natural.

If you have a missing tooth, your dentist can discuss all of your options in detail so that you can make the best possible decision regarding your teeth. Just remember that replacing a missing tooth as soon as possible is important in order to prevent gum and bone deterioration.

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