Tooth loss is a growing problem worldwide, affecting about a third of the adult population. The problem is much worse than that in the Middle East however, with double that number – two-thirds of the adult population – suffering from missing teeth.
Dental implants are the preferred solution to this epidemic, offering as they do a natural, comfortable and aesthetically pleasing alternative to missing teeth. But are they a permanent, lifetime solution? Or like other solutions for tooth loss such as dentures and bridges, are they just a stop-gap, requiring ongoing adjustments and replacement?
While their permanence depends on several factors, one thing dental implants are certainly not is temporary. Conservative estimates on the lifespan of implants start at a decade and average at around twenty-five years.
Compare that with the average bridge lasting seven years, and the typical denture needing to be replaced after around five, and we can already see why implants are fast becoming the most popular tooth replacement.
But can they really be considered a lifetime solution? In the right circumstances – and with the right care – absolutely, yes.
Built to last
One key factor in the longevity of dental implants is their lack of dependence on the remaining teeth in the mouth. As both bridges and dentures must be affixed to existing teeth in order to plug gaps, when those supporting teeth begin to deteriorate – which is a common problem with bridges as adjacent teeth need to be resized to support crowns – then the bridge or denture must be refitted and replaced. Implants on the other hand are completely self-supporting and anchor as firmly into the jaw as our natural teeth.
This fixing to the jawbone also works to overcome one of the main reasons why dental prosthesis need to be replaced: Bone loss. When the roots of our teeth are no longer there to stimulate the jawbone’s natural repair and replenishment cycle, the bone itself begins to weaken and resorb over time. This leads to a change in the shape of the mouth and face, which in turn leads to dentures becoming loose and dislodged. Dental implants, on the other hand, with their artificial roots, stimulate the jawbone to eradicate bone loss and remain firmly in place.
Dentures in particular are also known to wear down and break over time. Years of talking and chewing takes its toll on the acrylics and metals that are often used to make dentures, and they soon become susceptible to staining, weakening, cracking and even snapping altogether. Again when we compare this to implants, which are usually made from titanium and fused to the bone in the mouth by a natural process called osseointegration – whereby the bone and the implant form an organic structural bond – we see no movement and no wear and tear, even decades after placement.
And of course there is another big factor when it comes to how long an implant can last: Namely, oral hygiene. Yes, while dental implants are not subject to decay and erosion, they are susceptible to the most common oral complaint of them all – gum disease – present in almost one-fifth of adults worldwide. If badly looked after, implants can build up plaque deposits which if untreated lead to gum infections and disease. This is just as dangerous to implants as it is to natural teeth, which is why dental implants must be cared for in the same way as your natural teeth.
Ultimately, it is fair to say that implants will last for as long as they are kept clean and the gums kept healthy. In the right circumstances, yes, these can most certainly be expected to last a lifetime.
If you wish to pay special attention to your implant to ensure it goes the distance, there a plenty of shaped and angled brushes on the market specifically designed for keeping implants clean. Interdental brushes are great for cleaning the sides of the implants, and getting in between the teeth – where much of the mouth’s bacteria likes to hide. Equally, tuft brushes are perfect for cleaning the vital area where the implant meets the gum.
A great rule of thumb is simply to treat an implant just like a natural tooth – that means avoiding sugary foods, brushing at least twice a day, flossing regularly and making regular trips to your dentist to check on your overall oral health.
About the author:
D.M.D. summa cum laude
Cert. Prosthodontics (TUFTS, U.S.A.)
Dr. Petros is co-director of the Branemark Osseointegration Center Dubai. He qualified as a dentist in 1995, receiving his dental degree summa cum laude from Semmelweis University in Budapest. He graduated at the top of his class and was also chosen as valedictorian. In 1998 he completed the three-year, full-time postgraduate specialist prosthodontist training at Tufts University in Boston, United States, where he was awarded the Postgraduate Prosthodontist Certificate. Since 1999 Dr. Petros has been working in private practice as a specialist prosthodontist, almost exclusively on the prosthodontic rehabilitation of dental implants. He lectures extensively on same day implants and teeth reconstruction protocols. Together with Dr. Costa(Cert. Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery), Dr. Petros is the cofounder of SameDay Dental Implants Clinic located in Building 39 in Dubai Healthcare City in the United Arab Emirates.