June 16, 2021

Why dental implants may be a better solution for replacing teeth. Plus, are you a candidate?

If you have a single tooth or multiple teeth that need to be removed due to dental decay or advanced gum disease and want them to be replaced, you may be considering a dental implant or multiple implants.

We asked Ashish Sharma, B.D.S., M.S.D., at Vanderbilt Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, to explain the benefits of dental implants and what makes someone a good candidate for the procedure.

Scenarios for dental implants

Dental implants are used to replace single or multiple missing teeth. Missing teeth may be a result of dental decay, advanced periodontal (gum) disease, trauma, benign jaw pathology, oral cancer or congenitally missing teeth.

Traditionally, when someone had a single tooth or multiple teeth that needed to be replaced, the treatment options were a removal partial or complete denture or a fixed bridge, Sharma said.

Removal dentures can be challenging to adapt to because the dental prosthesis rests on the remaining jawbone and depends on the jawbone for stability and function. A fixed bridge requires reduction/grinding of adjacent teeth by the dentist in order to cement the bridge, Sharma explained.

“But with a dental implant it is different,” he said. “The dentist or surgeon can take out a single tooth or multiple teeth, place bone into the extraction sites, await bone healing for three to four months, followed by placement of a single dental implant or multiple dental implant implants.”

Implants must integrate with the jawbone over three to six months of healing time. Once implants have healed with your jawbone, you need to go back to your dentist to have crowns fabricated that will connect to the implants, Sharma said.

The number of missing teeth can dictate the number of dental implants used to restore the patient’s teeth. Dental prosthesis can be supported by as simple as two dental implants in the lower jaw, to which a complete denture can be connected. This can lead to improved chewing function and stability of the denture. Implants can also be used to help anchor dental prostheses in the mouth so that they don’t have to be removed. “It becomes like a completely natural-looking mouth,” Sharma said.

There are scenarios when one can have a missing tooth for a long period of time, and that might indicate the need for bone grafting prior to placement of a dental implant.

Are you a good candidate for implants?

Your health matters when it comes to getting implants. One of the biggest concerns is smoking. Wound healing is compromised for smokers, and smoking and can lead to implant failure, Sharma said. However, some smokers may still be able to get implants depending on the type of dental implant used, he added.

Another concern is diabetes. If you have diabetes that isn’t well-controlled, that can also up the risk of infection and implant failure. Medications used for osteoporosis can also lead to dental implant failure. And implants may not be appropriate for patients undergoing chemotherapy or with history of head and neck radiation. Therefore, it is important to disclose all health conditions and medications you’re taking to the provider, Sharma said.

Your oral hygiene habits also matter when it comes to getting dental implants. “Let’s say patients come in with multiple missing teeth and they’ve had poor oral hygiene and dental cavities as well as advanced periodontal disease,” Sharma said. “Those are patients who potentially have a higher risk of implant failures.” Patients who are motivated to take care of their prostheses will be good candidates.

Who should be your care provider?

Receiving implants is often a two-step process requiring experienced professionals; therefore, the implants need to be placed by an experienced provider with adequate training. “An oral surgeon can place dental implants, perform bone grafting procedures and do upper jaw sinus surgery with bone grafting,” Sharma said, “followed by referring the patient back to the restorative dentist for placement of crowns or dental implants that will connect to the dental implants.”

Young woman laughs with a friend.

Need a consultation for dental implants?

About 120 million people in the U.S. are missing at least one tooth due to dental decay (cavities), gum and bone disease, injury, or tumor surgery. Dental implants can be an effective treatments, and Vanderbilt Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery can help.

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