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A Guide to Dental Implants

Someone said to me recently that visiting the dentist was becoming more and more like taking a car in for a service. They take a look. Give a shake of the head. Give you a list of jobs that need doing (full of technical jargon, obviously). Then present you with a bill for (if you’re lucky), a few hundred pounds.

And what can you do? Grin and bear it – or maybe grimace and bear it, depending on how your teeth look. The fact is that dental work is becoming more confusing for patients. With more and more treatments available, dentists are able to offer more solutions, at different price ranges, to suit different people. How do you know what to choose? How do you know what is right for you? And how much it should cost?

Dental Implants are one of those techniques that sometimes cause misunderstandings. Costs can vary. Procedures can be difficult to understand. And if you don’t get the right explanations from the outset, you may feel as though you are beginning the procedure with more questions than answers!

Do I need dental implants?

We’ve all lost the odd tooth at times, whether it has been knocked out or loosened in a game of rugby or it has fallen out due to decay. Obviously, you don’t have to replace a missing tooth. But for many people, as well as being unsightly, missing teeth can cause problems with oral health. If they’ve been knocked out in a trauma, then the damage could also run deeper.

So let’s picture the scenario. You’re in the dentist’s chair, missing tooth still somewhere out on the rugby field. Your dentist, therefore, has a number of options available. The traditional method of replacing loose or missing teeth has been either with a fixed bridge or with a removable denture.

Alternatively, your dentist could recommend a dental implant. Dental implants are rapidly becoming the preferred treatment for replacing loose or missing teeth. They have been available for over 30 years, but in recent years, procedures have become faster, easier and more cost-effective.

What are the other options?

Most dentists will be more than happy to answer your questions. But it really helps if you know the right questions to ask. Dental implants have a high success rate and are becoming increasingly common. But that doesn’t mean that they are right for you. So here’s a tick list of questions that could be worth asking:

- Can a loose tooth be saved by root canal treatment?
- If root canal treatment is an option, would it be expensive?
- How long is the tooth likely to last if it is kept?
- Could a missing tooth be replaced with a bridge or denture instead?

Answers to these questions should make it clear right from the start why your dentist is recommending dental implants.

When should I start asking questions?

Good question! You’re not going to carry a tick list around just in case you knock a tooth out and end up in a dentist’s chair. If your dentist is recommending dental implants, then the first stage in the procedure should be a full consultation. This gives you the chance to ask any questions you have – the more, the better. Don’t be afraid of asking obvious questions either. The more comfortable you feel about the procedure, the more relaxed you will be when the appointment finally arrives. 

Of course, the consultation works both ways. Your dentist will more than likely have a few questions for you too. In particular, they will ask you a number of questions about your general health:

-    Are you a heavy smoker? This can slow down the healing process.

-    Are you a heavy drinker? This stops the gums from healing.

-    Do you grind your teeth? This stops the implant from ‘fusing’ properly.

It is important that you answer all questions honestly so that your dentist can recommend the appropriate treatment or course of action. Other health issues, such as the occurrence of gum disease or allergies and congenital defects will also be talked about during the consultation stage.

One of my friends needed a bone graft! Will I need one?

The dental implant procedure has a number of stages and most people only tend to remember the parts that sound scary! Some patients will need a bone graft. Think of the implant as a metal rod that goes into the jawbone and holds false teeth in place. It sounds a bit like fitting a piece of flat-pack furniture together – but if you can imagine how uncomfortable a moving denture is that grates against your gums, you can see why it is the perfect technique for securing teeth!

The reason that some patients need a bone graft is therefore fairly obvious – and any good joiner could probably tell you the answer! If the implants screws directly into the jawbone, then you need enough jawbone there to make sure it screws in properly.

So where does the extra bone come from?

Don’t worry, it isn’t somebody else’s! The best source of bone for your graft is your own bone tissue. Areas that can be used for bone graft include the chin, the back of the lower jaw, the hip and the tibia. Sometimes, a combination of your own bone tissue and a synthetic substitute can be used.

You will know whether you need a bone graft or not after the initial X-rays and CT scans. Armed with these, your dentist will be able to assess whether your jaw already has enough bone to support implants. In many cases, a bone graft isn’t needed and the dentist can continue with the standard procedure.

Is the dental implant procedure painful?

As we mentioned earlier, the dental implant procedure has developed significantly in recent years, becoming faster, easier and much more straightforward to perform. All of this means that you heal faster than in the past and the majority of patients are surprised at how little pain they feel. However, as with most dental work, you can expect some soreness and inflammation afterwards. How much really depends on how complex the procedure is.

The main part of the procedure is normally carried out under local anaesthetic, which numbs your jaw and mouth. If you have any concerns regarding the anaesthetising process, you know what to do: Ask!

How long before I can eat whatever I want again?

Now this isn’t an easy question to answer. Don’t forget, your mouth is pretty much unique. Every patient heals at different rates. And every dental implant procedure involves a slightly different approach or technique, to make sure that the implant feels as though it fits your mouth perfectly. In effect, it is tailor-made to suit you. So it is difficult to put a timescale on getting back to your best.

Usually, however, it takes three to six months for a patient’s mouth to heal before the teeth can be fitted. Having said that, if you are changing from dentures to implants, imagine how much you will enjoy being able to eat a crisp apple again! A few extra days of healing time will probably be worth the wait.

What can I expect the results to look like?

In all honesty, you won’t see much. One of the benefits of implants is that they are much more aesthetically pleasing than other treatments. There are no unsightly metal clips and the new teeth won’t move around in the same way as dentures. They are shaped to fit your jawbone and are permanently secured. So they should just look like a natural set of teeth.

The metal of the implant is hidden by the tooth, gum and jaw, so it isn’t visible. Similarly, some of the most important benefits of the implant are invisible too. Implants can help to stimulate the bone tissue in the jaw, keeping it healthy and making it stronger

Am I too old for dental implants?

There is no age limit for dental implants. Dental implants are best postponed in children until growth is complete, because the jaw bones change considerably in shape and size during growth. However, there is certainly no upper age limit to implant treatment; indeed, elderly patients can benefit greatly from stronger teeth. Implants will also keep your dentures much more comfortable, so eating becomes a pleasure again (no matter what the food!).

How long will my dental implants last?

Dental implants have a high success rate – research suggests that over 500 million people around the world have dental implants. So you can rest assured that it is a tried and tested technique. Surgery is commonly performed and implants can last for many years. Patients are always recommended to maintain good oral hygiene. You’ll have to spend time brushing your teeth and flossing every day, while also attending regular check-ups and receiving X-rays. Often, crowns, bridges and dentures are more likely to be damaged (and are more easily replaced), than the implants that support them.

Finally, can I afford them what do dental implants really cost?

Cost is an issue with dental implants, but only because those costs can vary so much. It often leaves you playing a guessing game. Are some procedures cheaper because they are inferior? Are more expensive procedures better? What are the real factors affecting the cost of treatment?

Don’t worry if these are the kinds of questions you’ve asked yourself – most other patients are in the same boat! So why do costs vary so much?

Usually, dental charges cover a number of costs for the surgery. For example, these costs can include:

- materials

- technical expertise

- facilities

- consultations and advice

In a procedure such as dental implants, these factors often vary from practice to practice and from patient to patient. As mentioned above, not every procedure will include a bone graft, so that affects the final cost. Some procedures may require referral to a specialist, so once again, the cost can be different. Finally, some practices may use different materials and different brands, which also can affect the cost of your procedure.

Ultimately, the advice to patients at the end of this article is exactly the same as the advice at the beginning. Ask! In the same way you’ve made the most of your consultation to find out what exactly your procedure involves, you should also find out what exactly you are paying for. What type/brand of implant is being used? What level of aftercare is included? Are there any aspects of your procedure that are non-standard?

Don’t forget, getting answers to your questions isn’t just about finding a cheaper option or checking on the expertise of your dentist. As much as anything else, it is about putting you at your ease throughout the procedure. At the end of the day, that knowledge and reassurance can be more valuable than anything else!

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