Dental Implants: Everything You Need To Know
Dental implants are a relatively new option for people with serious tooth problems. Pioneered about 50 years ago, dental implants have grown in popularity since the 1970s as an alternative to dentures or bridges to replace unhealthy or missing teeth. Although only 6% of Americans have implants now, by 2026 that number is set to grow to 23%.
When a patient has enough healthy bone in the jaw to accommodate the implant (which may require surgery to create), the results can be as comfortable, functional and natural looking as the person’s original teeth.
“Implants are an extremely worthwhile investment,” says Roger Levin, D.D.S., who is CEO of the dental management consultancy Levin Group, Inc. “They have a tremendous benefit in the quality of life.”
What Are Dental Implants?
The dental implant, which has traditionally been a small titanium or titanium-alloy screw that a dentist inserts into the jawbone, serves to hold a custom-made dental crown in place. The Food and Drug Administration has since approved zirconia implants for use as well. Zirconia, a hard white ceramic material, has grown significantly in popularity in the last five years.
If there isn’t sufficient bone to support the implant, you’ll need a bone graft. Bone deficiency can be due to aging, gum disease, injury or other causes. If the implant is going into the upper jaw, the bone around the sinuses needs to be built up, potentially requiring the patient to undergo a sinus lift beforehand.
Dental implants aren’t suited for children whose facial bone structure is still developing, although older teens can have them done. Implant surgery is also less likely to be successful in smokers and people who take immunosuppressive drugs or have just undergone head or neck radiation therapy, have uncontrolled diabetes or are nighttime teeth grinders. (Your dentist can assess whether you’re a teeth grinder, a condition known as sleep bruxism, because of the telltale damage it causes).
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