There are several main causes of tooth loss. One occurs when the bone and gums surrounding the teeth become infected by bacteria and deteriorate, another when a bacterial infection develops, resulting in the production of acid that eats away at the teeth. This acid causes cavities, and may lead to the death of the teeth, and eventually destroy or compromise the teeth to the point that it is necessary to remove them. Of course, many teeth are lost or damaged due to accidents.
Losing teeth is not something anyone wants to have to deal with. Not only can it be embarrassing, it can also be very painful. Traditionally, the solution is to opt for a set of dentures that either replaces the whole arch or just the missing teeth. However dentures have their own set of problems and for some people these problems are far greater than the original issue of tooth loss. For example dentures only have 10% of the chewing power of normal teeth; some wearers report a loss of taste, over salivation. The most common problem with false teeth is achieving a comfortable fit. Bridges, another common solution to tooth loss, require healthy adjacent teeth to be filed down to provide a foundation to support the replacement teeth. The filed teeth may fail, eventually causing further problems.
An alternative to removable dentures are dental implants. They act as an artificial tooth root to hold a replacement tooth or bridge. Dental implants are most commonly made of titanium, a metal that is well-tolerated by the body, and are placed directly into the jawbone. They are used to support one or more false teeth. A small attachment at the top of the implant emerges through the gum. Crowns, bridges or dentures can then be attached to the implant by screws or clips. Dental implants look and feel like a person’s own teeth, they don’t require any of the neighbouring teeth to be compromised. As they are fixed and stable, they therefore provide better functionality.
Currently, the success rate for dental implants is 95%. The main problem that dental implants are associated with is the potentially long process of having them fitted in the first place – often multiple trips to the dentist are required. The usual procedure for fitting dental implants involves a local anaesthetic. It is a surgical procedure and therefore has the usual associated risks of anaesthetics. Also, when having implants fitted, most people experience a degree of pain and discomfort following the surgery. The cost is perhaps one of the biggest factors in deciding whether to opt for dental implants or the more traditional dentures, bridges and crowns.
In the UK, the main difference between opting for dentures or dental implants is that, generally speaking, dental implants are not available as standard on the NHS and are only available where deemed medically necessary. For many, the reason for wanting dental implants is driven by a desire to achieve a perfect smile because of gaps or crooked teeth, rather than due to a definite medical need. Therefore many individuals choose private treatment and implants will continue to be popular in the cosmetic market for the foreseeable future.