Drilling down on Dental Implants

Dental implants are a great way to solve the potentially devastating problem of a missing permanent tooth. And we have rabbits to thank for them.

That’s right— rabbits. The pioneering scientist who invented the types of titanium dental implants we use here at City Dentists in Wellington was studying blood flow in rabbit femurs, or leg bones. As part of an experiment in the 1950s, he installed a titanium rod into a rabbit femur and observed that the rabbit’s bone fused with the titanium. The bonding was complete; the titanium could not be removed. Subsequent fractures, if they occurred, were always bone-on-bone. The scientists never saw a fracture between the titanium and the bone.

The process of fusion between titanium and bone is known as osseointegration. The Swedish professor and researcher who coined this term — after all the assistance from the rabbits in his laboratories, of course — is Per-Ingvar Brånemark. He is known as the father of implantology because he went on to apply his findings to the field of dentistry, implanting his titanium screws into the jaw bone.

Dr. Brånemark implanted the first titanium dental implant into a human patient in 1965. Multiple implants were performed. The patient had been born with facial deformities and no teeth; his implants lasted 40 years and were still in place when he died. Our team at City Dentists in Wellington have also seen many of our patients benefit from their dental implants for many decades as well. They are made to last a lifetime. So if you find yourself needing dental implant surgery — and are feeling a bit nervous — take heed in knowing the pain will be temporary. Your smile — and ability to chew — will be intact again soon, hopefully for the rest of your life.

Understanding dental implants:

There are lots of reasons you may require dental implant surgery. We know many patients have suffered dental trauma and pain on their way to needing dental implants. Perhaps you have a missing tooth. You could've cracked, broken or lost a natural tooth or multiple teeth in an accident. Or maybe you have suffered from extensive tooth decay or a failed root canal. Gum disease or the difficulty of coping with poorly fitting dentures are also reasons to seek dental implants. Bone loss — whether brought on by a lost tooth, periodontal disease, bacterial infection or a tumor — may also create the need for dental implants.

Essentially, dental implant treatment results in a replacement tooth. But what are dental implants, exactly? Implants are typically hollow titanium screws, which are embedded into a patient’s jaw bone. The screws essentially replace tooth roots and stimulate the jaw bone in the same way a tooth root would. As we’ve mentioned, the titanium screws fuse with the bone in your jaw.

Without stimulation from a tooth root, the jaw bone will erode. In fact, if you’ve been without a tooth for several weeks, some bone may have eroded already. So it is best to begin the process of implants soon. Dental implants will help stimulate healthy bone development as well as maintain your ability to chew and speak.

Once it is clear that your bone is growing around the titanium screw, we insert a post into the hollow part of the screw. Atop this post will be a specially fitted crown. It will resemble and fit with the rest of your teeth.

What to expect from surgery?

The process of getting one or more dental implants varies depending on your oral health. If teeth are in place but are damaged beyond repair, we may need to remove them completely. Also, if your jaw bone is not in a state that can withstand an implant, we possibly need to complete a bone graft. Our dental care team will discuss the process of a bone graft with you, should you require it. They generally take 3-4 months to heal — but every patient is different.

Once your mouth is healthy enough for implants, we will insert the titanium screw. This involves cutting the gums, drilling a hole and inserting the screw. Then we stitch everything up and watch for the process of osseointegration to begin; as you recall from above, this is the process of bone fusing to the screw. Each patient’s body is slightly different, so the time frame for this will vary.

Once osseointegration is observed, we will insert the post into the screw. The specially molded tooth is affixed to the post. Once this is permanently inserted, you will have a fully functioning root structure, intact smile and the ability to chew and speak properly for a lifetime.

Should you require more than one tooth replacement, we may be able to attach several teeth to a few posts. Particularly where many consecutive teeth have been lost, we won’t give each tooth its own titanium screw but rather attach a row of teeth to two or four screws. Your care team at City Dentists will discuss the options with you.

No matter how many teeth we are replacing, common complications from this procedure are similar to those for any other oral surgery:

* Infection
* Nerve Damage
* Sinus problems if upper-jaw implants protrude into sinus cavities
* Minor swelling or bruising
* Injury to other teeth or blood vessels

Generally, the risk of injury to other teeth is far less with dental implants than, say, a dental bridge, which requires the grinding down of adjacent teeth.

Longevity and care for your implants:

At each step of the surgical process, you may experience some pain. This might include some bleeding and related nausea should you swallow any blood. Some throbbing, jaw ache and headache is to be expected. But you will want to call our office if you experience any signs of nerve damage or bleeding that doesn’t stop. Your care team will advise you about how to care for your mouth after each step of this process.

It is essential to maintain excellent oral hygiene during the process of getting dental implants. This should include:

* Avoid smoking
* Keep the incision clear of food particles
* Brush and floss regularly
* Consider an electric toothbrush for small crevices
* Avoid chewing hard or especially sticky items, like sweets

With care, your dental implants can last a lifetime. And at City Dentists, we are committed to assisting you at every step of your journey toward a healthier jaw and smile. Please contact us for routine oral hygiene as well as any dental emergencies that crop up. We know life is unpredictable, so we always keep room in our schedules to assist patients who have suffered from unexpected dental trauma.

We will make a care plan, guide you at each step of the process and give you clear instructions for caring for your teeth, gums and bone. Our team is available to answer any questions you may have along the way.