Do dental implants really work? Misconceptions and the truth about dental implants

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I am often asked by people if dental implants really work as they tell me their difficult stories or others’ poor experiences. There seems to be a lot of misconception and misinformation out there. So What is the truth?

Tooth loss is a big problem in America. Approximately 100 million Americans are missing one or more teeth, with close to a third of these individuals missing all of their teeth in one or both jaws. Over 69% of adults ages 35-44 have lost at least one permanent tooth to decay, failed root canal, gum disease or accidents. A third over 65 have no teeth at all.

Individuals with teeth loss age prematurely and have compromised nutritional state due to inability to eat a proper and balanced diet. Many also suffer from altered self image and self confidence and cannot talk and smile comfortably. If not replaced in a timely fashion, tooth loss also results in shrinkage of surrounding jawbone.

Modern-day dentistry has devised an excellent way for people to replace their missing teeth and improve their smile and chewing, while avoiding loss of jaw bone and damaging effect of dentures or bridges. Rather than removable dentures resting on the gum line, or fixed bridges using adjacent teeth as anchors, dental implants are long-term replacements that your oral surgeon surgically places in the jawbone. Implants are visually indistinguishable from natural teeth, and if properly cared for, can last a lifetime.

Dental implants are growing in popularity — there were 5.5 million procedures performed in 2006. Unfortunately, many Americans avoid getting implants because they have been misinformed about its success, overall experience, and risks. Here are the five most prominent misconceptions about dental implants — and an explanation for why each is dead-wrong.

Misconception #1: Implants are too invasive and painful!

Implant dentistry is a subtle and conservative office procedure performed with precision and finesse. An experienced surgeon can place the implant in 10-15 minutes or less. It is significantly less invasive and less traumatic than conventional bridges that require ‘cutting down’ of natural teeth. Patients often report significantly less discomfort with their implant surgery than even with a simple tooth extraction. Recovery is quick and most people return to work or school the following day. However, every situation and patient is different and response and recovery can greatly vary. For example, recovery can be longer and patient can experience more pain with bone graftig procedures sometimes necessary for implant support.

Misconception #2: Implants are expensive!

Dental implants save you money in the long run by preserving jawbone and keeping adjacent teeth healthy. With proper cleaning and care, an implant will likely last a lifetime.

Compared to the alternatives, there is a much lower chance that a dental implant patient will need additional, costly dental procedures after the initial placement. Bridges require unnecessary cutting down of the surrounding teeth, exposing them to possible decay, root canals, or fractures resulting in further extractions and replacement with a costly new longer bridge.

Dentures cause gradual loss of jawbone due to traumatic shrinkage, therefore needing numerous relines to maintain their fit. With increasing loss of bone and support dentures become loose. To avoid slippage, denture adhesives are used which add significant cost over the years. By using as little as two implants, these adverse effects are prevented.

Misconception #3: Implants are frequently rejected by patient’s body!

The overall success rate for dental implants is 96 percent with almost 50 years of clinical research to back them up. Because implants are made of completely biologically compatible ‘bone-friendly’ titanium material, they naturally heal and integrate with the surrounding tissues. Rejection does not occur with dental implants. Other complications such as infections or ‘soft’ healing are extremely rare.

Misconception #4: I don’t have enough bone or I am too old for dental implants!

Jawbone may become thin or missing due to tooth loss, gum disease, or trauma. Using current grafting techniques and available materials oral surgeons can easily and predictability build up the necessary jawbone for healthy support of dental implants. Grafting procedures are highly successful when performed by a skilled oral surgeon providing every person with the benefits of dental implants.

Some older patients fear their jawbone is too weak for implants due to their age or osteoporosis. The fact is dental implants are equally successful in these patients, improving their quality of life by being able to enjoy their favorite food and maintain social interactions.

Misconception #5: Any dentist can perform dental implant surgery!

According to Dr. Harold Slavkin, dean of the University of Southern California dental school, ”a well-educated and well-trained clinician is imperative” for a successful dental implant procedure. Malcom Gladwell, in his recent book, Outliers, talks about the 10000-hours rule which says: Achieving Excellence at Performing a Complex Task, True Mastery & Greatness Status as a World-Class Expert in Anything Requires 10,000 Hours of Practice. Hence choosing a skillful and experienced surgeon placing the implant and a dentist restoring it is crucial in achieving aesthetic and functional success.

In this regard dental implants success is twofold. First, it requires skillful surgical techniques, best performed by surgeons or dentists with formal surgical training. Second, it requires precision fitting and highly cosmetic overlying crowns, bridges, or dentures made by an experienced restorative dentist. The best success is achieved when a team of dentists work together along with a quality laboratory.

Reality: Dental implants are the most ideal and predictable way to improve your smile and chewing while saving you significant cost over the years. They are safe and highly successful in virtually every patient, regardless of their age or jawbone health, especially when performed by skillful and trained dentists. Implants are the future of dentistry here today with cutting edge technology and techniques that will benefit many for a better and healthier life.

Article by
Bethesda Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon