Dental implants have never been more popular. To put a number to that statement, each year over 800,000 individual implants are placed in the United States alone – a figure that is expected to grow 20% year-on-year.
When you consider that over a third of people between 65 and 74 years of age have no natural teeth – and hundreds of millions around the world of all ages are missing at least one tooth – the popularity of tooth replacement is unsurprising. There is a real need here.
But why are implants, in particular, the best way to satisfy this demand, rather than say dentures or bridges?
First and foremost, implants are the most aesthetically pleasing replacement for real teeth. Solid and secure, dental implants look, feel and function just like your natural teeth – and in most cases are completely indistinguishable. Also, as implants are fused directly to the jawbone, they don’t loosen, slip or wobble, and so offer far greater structural support for the mouth than dentures or bridges.
Implants don’t just help to solve the problem of missing teeth either, they also work to prevent further tooth loss. This is, in part, down to the way implants transmit chewing forces around the mouth equally – just like our natural teeth – eliminating pressure points, sore spots and additional stress on the remaining teeth.
Nor are the benefits of implants only confined to within the mouth. They also stimulate the jawbone, again, much like natural teeth, which prevents resorption and helps to maintain the overall structure of the face.
As you can tell, I could sing the praises of dental implants all day. And I will continue to do so by highlighting in the next sections why other solutions to tooth loss just don’t measure up.
The dentures option
Put simply, dentures are prosthetic devices that are placed in the mouth to replicate and replace missing teeth. Unlike implants, which are fused to the bone, dentures are supported by the surrounding tissues of the oral cavity and are secured by clasps which attach to nearby teeth.
One positive is that a removable partial denture can be moulded to the mouth in order to replace several missing teeth at once with minimal tooth preparation – sometimes none at all. However, fitting of dentures can take some time and involve many visits to the dentist – for impressions, bite registrations and “try out” procedures – before the prosthesis can finally be fitted.
The unique characteristic of dentures in comparison to implants and bridges (which we will come to later) is that they are removable. While some consider this a slight advantage in terms of cleaning, this semi-permanence makes them prone to shifting in the mouth, which can aggravate the gums and cause problems with speech and mastication. There’s also the issue of longevity, the average life span of a well-looked after denture is five-to-seven years, and as they do not stimulate the jawbone like implants, they can become ill-fitting over time as the gums resorb.
The real nail in the coffin for dentures however is the strain they place on your remaining teeth. The clasps which hold the denture in place put the adjacent teeth under unnecessary pressure, causing them to abrade and even loosen. As if that doesn’t sound bad enough, dentures can also accelerate the resorption process by placing uneven pressure on the gums and providing no stimulation to the jawbone. This causes a loss of facial structure and means dentures have to be re-fit regularly.
The bridges option
Dental bridges are named so because they literally bridge the gap created by one or more missing teeth – staying in place by affixing to neighbouring healthy teeth with wings or crowns. Unlike dentures, which can be removed, bridges are cemented into the mouth and can stay in place for over 10 years. However, while your new artificial tooth may shine bright for over a decade, those surrounding it can pay a heavy price.
In order to attach a bridge, the healthy teeth on either side of the gap it is intended to plug must be filed down into peg-like shapes so new crowns can be fitted. So, in effect, in order to replace a missing tooth, you are intentionally causing damage to two more healthy specimens – making them weaker and more prone to decay. As a result of supporting their new neighbour, the adjoining teeth can eventually loosen, unable to cope with the excessive strain they have been placed under.
Dental bridges have been known to take their toll beyond the tooth too, as 15% of teeth that are prepared for a full crown as part of a bridge sustain nerve damage that can then require root canal treatment.
Finally, just like dentures, bridges do not stimulate the jawbone, leading to bone loss that can eventually cause the gums and bone above the replacement tooth to collapse – which, let’s face it, undermines the whole reason for getting a bridge in the first place.
The final word
So now that we’ve taken a look at the downsides of the alternatives, let’s wrap up with a final word on implants. Hey, there must be some negatives there too, right? In fact, no, not at all. Or, rather, not at all if you choose the right option.
What do I mean by the right option? Well, the major downside of dental implants is the time it takes to complete the process using traditional methods. Those methods require patients to wait for the gum to heal after extraction, then wait once more after the placing of the implant before having a crown fitted. The timeframe: In a best-case scenario a few months, and in a worst-case scenario a year or more.
And so the “right option” has changed the game. Thanks to major advancements in implant technology, same day implant procedures, although very rare in this part of the world (SameDay Dental Implants in Dubai is the clinic in the Middle East with this offering), are now a reality.
By utilising all available bone in order to achieve the necessary stability for immediate loading of an implant – and in many cases avoiding the invasive bone grafting and augmentation procedures – what once took up to a year can now literally be achieved in just a single day.
So while dentures and bridges and traditional implant methods may not quite yet be the treatments of the past, same day dental implants are most certainly the treatment of the future, solving the issue of tooth loss conveniently and to the highest standard.
About the author:
BDS cum laude, FFD (SA) MFOS
Cert. Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery
Dr. Costa, BDS cum laude, FFD (SA) MFOS, qualified as a dentist in 1984 after receiving his dental degree from the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. He graduated at the top of his class with “rank order number one,” and has received numerous awards over the years, including the Gold Medal of the Dental Association of South Africa, which recognizes the most outstanding graduate. In 1990 he completed his four-year, full-time postgraduate in maxillo-facial and oral surgery training at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. Since 1991 he has been in private practice, concentrating on immediate loading of dental implants. To date Dr. Costa has placed over 35,000 dental implants, and as a key member of the global dental implant community he is a regular speaker on the topic, lecturing at various international implant congresses. In 2012, together with Prosthodontist Dr. Petros, Dr. Costa established SameDay Dental Implants Clinic, Dubai, as well as the Branemark Osseointegration Center, Dubai.