Dental implants are artificial teeth that look and function exactly like your natural teeth. Unlike dentures, they are permanently rooted in your mouth, so you can care for them just as you would your natural teeth. Because they are an effective, long-lasting solution, they are an increasingly popular option for tooth replacement.
That said, while most patients are good candidates for dental implants, there are instances when this treatment option might not be ideal. That’s why it’s important to consult with an oral surgeon about your specific needs. You want to thoroughly understand whether dental implants are right for you.
If you’re interested in dental implants but aren’t sure if you’re a strong candidate for this treatment, consider the following information. Then, make an appointment to start the conversation with your oral surgeon.
Dental implants work by fusing to your jawbone. The implant itself is a small rod inserted into the jawbone and then covered by a crown designed to look just like your natural tooth. Most dental implants are made of titanium alloys, which form a strong bond with the bone.
That means you need sufficient jawbone strength to support an implant. If your jawbone isn’t strong enough, the implant may not stay in place. This is the primary reason a patient may not be a good candidate for treatment.
It’s also a good reason to act sooner rather than later if your oral surgeon recommends dental implants. The longer you wait to replace a missing tooth, the more the underlying jawbone may deteriorate. If you wait too long, by the time you’re ready for treatment, your jawbone may no longer be strong enough.
There may be options when this happens. Patients with insufficient jawbone strength can often undergo bone grafting procedures. As the name implies, this involves grafting additional bone tissue onto the jawbone to compensate for the lack of strength. However, this adds an extra step to the treatment process—although if your jawbone is naturally too weak to support an implant, bone grafting may be unavoidable.
It’s also important to understand that lack of jawbone strength isn’t the only reason a patient may not be a good candidate for this treatment option. Gum disease, cavities, or substantial dental decay might also give an oral surgeon reason to recommend another treatment, or at the very least delay treatment.
If the gums are infected, there’s a chance the infection could spread. Infection can also weaken the gums and prevent them from supporting the implant. In addition, during the procedure to place the implant, the gums must be cut. If they’re infected, this will complicate the procedure or increase the length of time required for healing. Overall, unhealthy gums reduce the likelihood that dental implant surgery will be successful in the long run. Thus, oral surgeons frequently advise addressing any significant infections or decay first before moving forward with dental implants.
Patients might also be poor candidates for dental implants if they are especially prone to gum disease. This may be due to genetics, or habits such as tobacco use. If an oral surgeon observes that a patient has uncontrolled gum disease, they may not recommend implants.
Crowded teeth can delay treatment, but they typically aren’t an insurmountable obstacle. When inserting a dental implant, an oral surgeon needs to place it in a position where it will remain supported for, ideally, the patient’s lifetime. If the natural teeth in that area are crowded, there may not be room for the implant’s proper placement. However, most patients with crowded teeth simply need to undergo orthodontic treatment before they can have an implant inserted.
There are certain disorders, such as autoimmune disorders, that affect a person’s ability to heal quickly or thoroughly. Patients who have such disorders might not be good candidates for dental implants. However, these individuals can replace missing teeth with such options as dentures or bridges. An oral surgeon can recommend the ideal substitute teeth for patients whose medical conditions prevent them from receiving implants.
Smokers are generally considered less-than-optimal candidates for dental implants. That’s because the failure rate for dental implants in smokers can be as high as 20%, according to several studies. However, smokers may see more success if they quit smoking a few weeks before their implant is placed and abstain until at least two months after the procedure. If you smoke, make sure to tell your dentist and oral surgeon.
It’s also worth noting that dental implants take time—the procedure to place the implant does not take long, but the full healing process can require months or even a year. In the long run, the benefits certainly outweigh the length of treatment, but patients do need to keep this in mind when discussing their options with an oral surgeon.
Luckily, your oral surgeon will gladly answer any questions you may have. They’ll also happily address your concerns. Remember, most patients actually are good candidates for dental implants.