If you’ve ever considered dental implants, you’ll know they differ from other forms of teeth replacement because they don’t rely on support from other teeth. In other words, the remaining teeth don’t need to be reshaped or changed to support the restoration.
Naturally, this is great for the longevity of your remaining teeth, but it does pose a question. What keeps a tooth implant in place? More importantly, how does it stay put?
To answer this question, we first need to look at what happens below the surface of a natural tooth.
When a natural tooth is in place, it’s supported by the periodontal ligament, a series of connective tissues or fibers. The ligament is anchored into the cement layer of the tooth and directly into the alveolar (jaw) bone. Every time we chew, the ligament stimulates the alveolar bone tissue surrounding it. Frequent stimulation upholds both bone structure and density.
So, when a tooth is missing, any lack of stimulation causes the bone to lose structure and density over time. This is why the alveolar ridge shrinks by 30% during the first year after tooth loss.
When a partial denture or bridge replaces a missing tooth, bone loss continues because there is still nothing to stimulate the area. The changing shape of the jaw is the main reason traditional dentures and bridges need to be replaced often.
Conversely, once a dental implant is anchored into the jaw, the surrounding bone maintains both form and structure, but how so? After all, a tooth implant doesn’t have a periodontal ligament.
The answer lies in clever trickery and the bone’s natural fusing process.
When a tooth implant is placed directly into the jaw, it deceives the remaining bone tissue into thinking it’s a tooth root. The bone tissue now has something to support and, over time, will grow around and fuse with the implant in a process known as osseointegration.
Because dental implants are made from titanium, a bio-compatible metal, the bone naturally has an affinity to it and, as a result, starts to bond with the implant. As it bonds, the implant becomes one with the jaw, making it a permanent structure in the mouth; the result is a strong foundation that can support a dental crown, a bridge, or an implant-supported denture.
The process of osseointegration is painless and takes around 3-6 months. The outcome is a permanent tooth replacement that looks, feels, and to a certain extent, acts like a natural tooth.
Now you know what keeps a tooth implant in place and how it stays put, the next logical question is, can implants become loose?
In a word, yes!
Although dental implants typically have a 98% success rate, certain factors can cause the implant to fail.
Too much pressure on the implant
Care should be taken when chewing, at least until bone fusion is complete. Dental implants are vulnerable to movement in the early stages, mainly when eating chewy foods. For this reason, your dentist will place you on a restricted diet until after the fusion process is complete. After this, you should be able to eat whatever you like.
Smoking is, of course, bad for our health, but did you know it also has a negative impact on newly placed implants?
Firstly, smoking can affect the oxygen levels in the blood. Oxygen is required for both bone repair and bone development. Evidence suggests that smoking slows down the osseointegration process considerably; sometimes, bone fusion doesn’t occur at all.
Moreover, bacteria contained within tobacco smoke can attack the bone tissue leading to further bone loss.
Those with long-term missing teeth or long-term denture wearers will inevitably have lost significant amounts of bone. Yet, tooth implants need a significant quantity of bone to anchor into for them to remain stable.
The good news is that patients can undergo a bone grafting process before getting dental implant treatment. Bone grafting gives the implant sufficient healthy bone to support it long-term.
In cases of chronic bone loss, particularly in patients who have lost most or all of their teeth, bone grafting isn’t always possible. In these instances, zygomatic implants may be a preferred option. Rather than being placed into the alveolar (jaw) bone, zygomatic implants are anchored via the zygomatic (cheek) bone because it is not affected by bone shrinkage.
That said, zygomatic implant placement requires specialist knowledge and not every implant dentist does them, so you may need to be referred.
Tooth implants are held in place by a biological fusing process. As long as you follow the protocols of not smoking, adopting temporary changes in your diet and maintaining good oral hygiene, you shouldn’t worry about whether your dental implant will stay put.
Once a solid foundation is formed and any permanent restorations are in place, you’ll have a life-changing look that allows you to smile with confidence, eat what you like and restore any lost self-esteem.
Talk to the team at Chesterfield Dentistry to find out more if you’re a good candidate for an implant-based restoration. We make life-changing smiles an everyday occurrence, so call 314-936-3621 or schedule an appointment today.