The loss of a tooth may be a bit traumatic for a five- or six-year-old child, but it’s all part of the natural growing process, one that adults usually find rather cute. There is nothing cute, however, about adults losing a tooth.
When someone past the age of seven or eight loses a tooth, it’s gone for good, and studies show that more than 178 million Americans have suffered just such a loss while more than 35 million Americans have lost not just one or two teeth but all their teeth.
Most consider tooth loss to be an aesthetic problem, and for those who lose a tooth in their smile line it is. But there are physical problems that develop as a result of tooth loss that are even more concerning.
Over time, the loss of a tooth can lead to a loss of bone in the jaw area where the missing tooth used to be, which can result in changes in a person’s facial appearance, odd shifts in the remaining teeth and a collapse in the person’s bite.
Replacement options for missing teeth include bridges and dentures, but dental implants have become the gold standard for tooth replacement because they prevent further bone loss and look and function just like natural teeth.
At Dental Specialists of North Florida, John W. Thousand IV, DDS, MSD, is a specialist in implant dentistry, which is the surgical placement into the jawbone of a screw-like post that serves as the foundation for replacement teeth, bridges or dentures.
The Right Choice
The implant itself is a titanium root-shaped body that is surgically placed into the jaw bone. A single implant supports an abutment and a crown, which creates a new tooth. Several implants can be used to support a fixed bridge or even a full denture.
Because implants require a certain amount of bone to attach to, the implant procedure always begins with an examination to determine whether the patient has enough jaw bone to adequately support an implant.
For those who don’t, a bone grafting procedure can be done in which bone from another part of the body or a special bone grafting material designed to enhance new bone growth is seated in the jawbone where the implant is expected to go.
It typically takes between four and six months for the jaw bone to heal to a point where it is strong enough to support implants. During that healing period, patients usually wear temporary, or removable, dentures or bridges.
Once the implants are placed, patients usually need between three and six months for the implants to heal to the point where they can support the abutment and the crown. As with bone grafting, patients typically wear temporary crowns or bridges during that time.
The advantages to dental implants include a more natural feel and look but they don’t end there. Because a full implant-supported upper arch doesn’t cover the palate the way traditional dentures do, they don’t negatively affect a person’s sense of taste.
Another issue associated with traditional dentures that is avoided through implant-supported dentures is the gag reflex that some patients experience because the denture extends over the back of the palate. Implants also aid the digestive process.
That process begins in the mouth with the way we chew our food. Implants allow a person to chew their naturally and properly, which is an important health factor. If certain foods are not chewed properly, some nutrients may not be absorbed into the body.
Implants even have an effect on the foods we eat. People missing teeth or those wearing bridges or traditional dentures may be prohibited from eating certain foods. That’s not the case with dentures, because their natural form eliminates all restrictions.