First used by the Mayans circa 600 AD, dental implants are used to counter tooth loss, a process which leaves many patients feeling self-conscious and potentially vulnerable to further dental damage. Most implants today are root-form endosseous meaning that they take the general appearance as well as function of a natural tooth root and are implanted in the jawbone. The implants can be used to augment or replace a number of other dental prostheses such as crowns
, or dentures
Unlike the earliest examples which were often made of shells, modern implants are usually either pure titanium or titanium alloys thanks to the work started in the 1950’s by Swedish orthopedic surgeon Per-Ingvar Brånemark who found that titanium has a unique property which allows it to effectively bond with bone over time due to a process he termed “osseointegration” as the bone grows and veritably envelops the implant. The implants are screw shaped allowing them to be easily inserted into the socket immediately after extraction of the problem tooth or at a later date in the case of natural tooth loss.
The procedure requires extensive planning in order to avoid hitting major nerves and the sinuses, and radiographs as well as CT scans are often performed, sometimes accompanied by special 3D imaging. A hole is drilled into the jaw and the implant is carefully positioned into the socket but usually not initially “loaded” by placing a replacement tooth at the other end of the screw. After allowing for osseointegration, the implant is loaded and usually fully heals after two to six months without complications which may occur if the implant is loaded too early. Bone grafting is sometimes required in order to give the oral surgeon more bone into which he can securely place the implant in order to stand up to the rigors of chewing and usually a one to one or better crown to root ratio is aimed for in order to ensure maximum longevity of the implant.
Dental implants have many advantages over other forms of replacement teeth, notably dentures because they improve speech, eating, oral health, and appearance while being both more durable and convenient for the patient. With proper care, implants can last a lifetime and have a success rate of up to 98%, however it must be noted that patients with chronic disorders such as diabetes or heart disease, patients who have had radiation therapy to the head or neck, and heavy smokers need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis by their dentists. A frequent concern is pain, but due to the anesthetic used during the procedure patients report little discomfort. Minor post-operational soreness is often treated with over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol or Motrin.