Maybe you had parents or grandparents who used to take their teeth out at night and put them in a jar. It’s not a pretty sight! Luckily for our generation, technology has marched along and provided a better solution: dental implants.
I’m the happy owner of one myself. I did have some problems along the way, which I’ll get to later, but I’m so glad now that I have this lifelike artificial tooth that looks and feels exactly like the real thing.
If you get an implant, it will have two parts — a post, which is a screw, and a crown, which is an artificial tooth. Technically, only the post is the implant, but when most people talk about implants, they usually are thinking of both parts.
With the most common type of dental implant, the post is a titanium screw that the oral surgeon screws into your jawbone. That sounds painful, but it’s not. Ordinarily, you won’t be able to feel the screw at all. The whole experience is much less scary than it sounds.
There’s usually a waiting period after you get the post to give time for bone to grow around it. When it’s ready, your dentist will measure the area, order the crown from a lab, and then put it over the post and seal it.
Not having to live with your teeth in a jar on your nightstand is just the first of many advantages that implants offer over dentures or bridges. With both types of dental implants, you will enjoy:
You’ll have to talk to your dentist and/or oral surgeon. Most, though not all, people are good candidates for getting dental implants.
The main problem is if you don’t have enough jawbone left to support an implant. Age, gum disease, and osteoporosis can all cause the jawbone to become less dense. This is a major cause of tooth loss. If you want to replace those lost teeth with implants, there needs to be enough bone left to hold onto the implant post.
If you don’t have enough bone, there are procedures your dentist, oral surgeon, or periodontist can do to make the jawbone strong enough to keep the implant in place. Bone grafts add in additional bone to fortify the jaw. Sometimes the bone may be taken from another part of your body, but usually it’s something the surgeon has in a jar. It could be synthetic, from a human donor or a cow. A sinus lift is a type of bone graft done on the upper jaw.
If you need a bone graft, usually you’ll need to do that first, then wait a few months for the bone to grow before you can get your implant.
Although dental implants have an astonishing success rate, I was one of the few people whose implant initially failed. I had to do the procedure over, this time getting a sinus lift. The second time was a charm, and it worked. I haven’t had any problems since.
You can get an implant to replace a single tooth that you lost because of an accident, sports injury, or gum disease. At the other extreme, you can use implants to replace all of your teeth, using either individual implants or a hybrid procedure where four implants are used to anchor dental bridges.
With all of their advantages, implants have one major disadvantage, which is the cost. Implants are expensive, especially if you are getting more than one. Many people don’t have dental insurance. Even if you do, it usually has a maximum annual pay-out, which may not cover much of the cost. Dental discount plans are an alternative that usually don’t have a cap, but not all dentists or dental specialists accept them. You have to check with your individual provider. These plans, which usually lower the fee from “retail” to what dentists charge insurance companies, still leave you with most of the bill.
Some people who need extensive implant work done are going to other countries where the costs are lower and the quality of the work is high. This is part of a general trend of “medical tourism” where people getting expensive medical procedures, such as cosmetic surgery, are going overseas.
Some North Americans travel to Mexico for implants, because rent and labor cost less there. Because dentists aren’t required to carry malpractice insurance, dental professionals are able to charge much less. Atlantic Magazine talked to a dentist who lives in El Paso, Texas, but practices dentistry in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, an hour’s drive south from the border. The majority of her patients are Americans, attracted by rates such as $549 for an implant that would cost $1,500 in the States. The dentist throws in a free ride from the airport.
All types of dental implants are expensive, and there are waiting times involved between different stages of the procedure, but the results are amazing. It’s like turning back the clock. The appearance and function of your mouth will be restored back to the way they were before.
If you’ve felt embarrassed about the way your mouth looked with missing teeth, your restored smile will give you a boost to your confidence. You will even enjoy smiling for the camera.
Once all the implant and crown procedures are done, your implant will be almost maintenance free. There may be a small gap that could catch food, where you’ll need to be sure to floss, but this is nothing compared to the daily hassle involved with taking care of dentures.
We are lucky to be living in a time when new medical technology offers options that make life easier and more pleasant. If this intrigues you, talk to your dentist to see if implants could be the right choice for you.
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