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What are dental implants?
Missing teeth can often be replaced by dental implants. Implants act like roots of teeth in that after they have been fitted, dentures or crowns can be attached to them. This means dentures will not slip around, as they are held in place by the implants, and crowns fitted on implants act as normal teeth.

Implants are generally inserted into the bone. This can only be done if there is enough bone present in the jaw. When teeth are lost, the bone around the teeth gradually disappears. If too much bone is lost, it is sometimes possible to grow bone in its place.

What are the alternatives?
For people with no remaining teeth the alternatives are:
•  Complete dentures
•  Implants which secure dentures in place
•  Implants which support crowns and bridges

For people with some remaining teeth the alternatives are:
•  Partial dentures supported by teeth
•  Bridges supported by teeth
•  Partial dentures supported by implants
•  Crowns and bridges supported by implants

You can have complete or partial implants, depending on the state of your oral health, whether you have any underlying oral medical conditions, the number of teeth you have in your mouth and the bone present in your jaw.

The initial evaluation
Implants survive best in a healthy environment. Any tooth decay or gum problems must be corrected before your implants are fitted. This may involve the removal of unsavable teeth or treatment for existing oral infections. Your implants may be delayed until the treatment is complete.

Additional diagnostic material such as photographs, x-rays and models of your teeth and jaws is used to perform a proper diagnosis of your general dental health.

How many implants are required?
As many implants as possible should be used to reduce the stress of biting on each particular implant. It is possible to have two or three implants and add more at a later stage to improve the treatment plan, although this is not possible in all situations.

Are having dental implants painful?
As with any surgery there is some discomfort, however anaesthetics and sedation virtually eliminates pain during actual surgery.

The after effects of implant surgery may include some bruising and swelling, with a dull ache. The actual post-implant discomfort varies according to the number if dental implants placed. Patients will receive medication to manage any discomfort.

When choosing a date for implant placement, avoid significant social events or work commitments for at least a week afterwards. This is just to be on the safe side. Taking time off work is not normally necessary.

Additional procedures before implant placement
In some cases where there is not enough bone present to support dental implants, it is necessary to create new bone to fill in the missing areas. This is called bone grafting. Bone may be taken from a donor, a synthetic substitute or from other areas of the mouth where there is some spare. Where bone grafting is required, this usually lengthens the time taken to complete the treatment.

Often the softer bone above the upper molars is not suitable for normal implant procedures. In this case, a process called sinus augmentation is required. This involves growing bone in the sinus spaces above the upper molars, thus providing a bed in which the implants can be placed.

Duration of treatment
There is an initial treatment planning stage, which may take a month or so. Preparatory procedures such as improving gum health or removing any unsavable teeth may add on extra time.

Where no bone grafting is required, dental implant treatment usually takes between 2 - 3 months to complete. Where implant placement is delayed due to bone grafting, overall treatment usually takes longer. These figures are estimates and actual durations may vary according to the patient.

Implant maintenance
Daily cleaning is as important with implants as with teeth. It’s advisable to have follow-up appointments and regular check-ups to ensure your implants are well maintained.

Success of your implants depends on your personal commitment to caring for your long term oral hygiene.

For any queries regarding dental implants or to book a specialist consultation, please contact the surgery.

Dr Hans van Heerden
         
 
       
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