In the past, when people lost teeth to disease or accidents, they replaced them with removable dentures, sometimes called “false teeth.” That led to consumer products like denture cream to keep them in place and cleaning solutions to keep them pearly white.
These days, your dentist is more likely to recommend dental implants – replacement teeth that are permanently anchored to your jaw. While old fashioned dentures were replacements for your teeth, implants are more like replacements for your teeth's roots.
Just like your teeth's natural roots, dental implants are fixed to the jawbone. The crowns – the actual replacements for missing teeth – are anchored to the implants.
The implants are usually made of titanium, favored because it is lightweight, strong and does not cause an adverse reaction when it comes in contact with tissue. That's why titanium is also used in many hip and knee replacement surgeries.
If removing all or some of your teeth and replacing them with titanium screws sounds like a complicated procedure, it can be. But more often than not, these surgeries are performed in a dentist's office.
A dental surgeon mostly relies on local anesthesia for these outpatient procedures but can put the patient under, depending on the wishes of the patient and the complexity of the operation.
Other surgical procedures like bone augmentation may be performed at the same time as implant placement. Each surgical procedure is different depending on the clinical situation as well as the preferences of the patient and dental practitioner or surgeon.
In most cases it's a 3-step process. First, the surgeon replaces the root with the implant, which remains under the gum during a healing process. After the gums heal, the surgeon removes some of the overlaying gum, exposing the implant.
In the second stage the surgeon connects some type of post, called an abutment, to the implant and allows the gum to heal around it.
The final stage of the process is the fabrication of the replacement teeth and their attachment to the abutments.
According to the Academy of Osseointegration, a professional dental organization, dental implants do not have a 100% success rate. But success rates have improved dramatically since the introduction of dental implant surgery and success rates are now well above 90% for most implant patients, the group says.
Like many things, circumstances will dictate what dental implant surgery costs. Factors may include the dentist or surgeon you use, the type of implant and procedure, how many and which teeth you need replaced, how many implants are required to support these teeth, and where you live. Some dental plans cover dental implants.
A single tooth implant typically costs $1,000 to $3,000, excluding the cost of the crown. If additional procedures are required, the price can easily jump to $5,000 to $10,000.
Dental implants have become so common in recent years that some dentists and dental clinics specialize in the procedure. Many offer package promotions, replacing several teeth for what it once cost to replace a single tooth.
The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry maintains that implants go beyond improved appearance and can improve oral health. It sees the key benefit of an implant is its permanence, connecting directly to the bone and becoming part of the mouth.
“When a tooth is lost, bone loss will eventually occur in that region because the root is no longer stimulating and stabilizing the bone,” the group says. “By using titanium -- which biochemically joins to bone -- to replace the root, you get a bond that more accurately replicates the one found in nature.”
Consumers who have gone though a dental implant are generally pleased -- once the process is over. But some say you should be prepared to put up with some short term pain and discomfort to get that new smile.