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Dental implants are known for their durability as well as life-like beauty. Thanks to their unique construction and ability to integrate with bone, they have a very high success rate and can last for decades.
But while they’re less problematic than other restorations, we still can’t “set them and forget them.” While the implants themselves aren’t susceptible to disease, the supporting gums, bone and adjacent teeth are. If you want them to last as long as possible, you’ll need to care for them and the rest of your mouth through daily oral hygiene and semi-annual office cleanings.
With that said, there are a few differences in how we perform hygiene tasks with implants. This is due to the way in which they attach to the jaw, as the titanium post is inserted directly into the bone. Natural teeth, on the other hand, are held in place by the periodontal ligament, a strong connective tissue that lies between the teeth and bone. The ligament holds the teeth firmly in place while also allowing minute tooth movement in response to changes in the mouth.
The ligament also has an ample blood supply that assists with fighting infection that may arise in the tooth and its supporting gums. Without this extra source of defense, infections that arise around an implant can grow quickly into a condition known as peri-implantitis and lead to rapid bone loss that could cause the implant to fail.
That’s why you and your hygienist must be ever vigilant to the buildup of plaque, the bacterial film that gives rise to dental disease, around implants and adjacent teeth. This includes removing plaque buildup from implant surfaces, although your hygienist will use tools (scalers or curettes) made of plastic or resin rather than traditional metal to avoid scratching the implant’s dental material. They’ll likewise use nylon or plastic tips with ultrasonic equipment (which uses high vibration to loosen plaque) and lower power settings with water irrigation devices.
Keeping infection at bay with effective hygiene is the number one maintenance goal with dental implants. Doing your part along with your hygienist will help you get the most of this investment in your smile.
Everyone has to face the music at some time — even John Lydon, former lead singer of The Sex Pistols, arguably England’s best known punk rock band. The 59-year old musician was once better known by his stage name, Johnny Rotten — a brash reference to the visibly degraded state of his teeth. But in the decades since his band broke up, Lydon’s lifelong deficiency in dental hygiene had begun to cause him serious problems.
In recent years, Lydon has had several dental surgeries — including one to resolve two serious abscesses in his mouth, which left him with stitches in his gums and a temporary speech impediment. Photos show that he also had missing teeth, which, sources say, he opted to replace with dental implants.
For Lydon (and many others in the same situation) that’s likely to be an excellent choice. Dental implants are the gold standard for tooth replacement today, for some very good reasons. The most natural-looking of all tooth replacements, implants also have a higher success rate than any other method: over 95 percent. They can be used to replace one tooth, several teeth, or an entire arch (top or bottom row) of teeth. And with only routine care, they can last for the rest of your life.
Like natural teeth, dental implants get support from the bone in your jaw. The implant itself — a screw-like titanium post — is inserted into the jaw in a minor surgical operation. The lifelike, visible part of the tooth — the crown — is attached to the implant by a sturdy connector called an abutment. In time, the titanium metal of the implant actually becomes fused with the living bone tissue. This not only provides a solid anchorage for the prosthetic, but it also prevents bone loss at the site of the missing tooth — which is something neither bridgework nor dentures can do.
It’s true that implants may have a higher initial cost than other tooth replacement methods; in the long run, however, they may prove more economical. Over time, the cost of repeated dental treatments and periodic replacement of shorter-lived tooth restorations (not to mention lost time and discomfort) can easily exceed the expense of implants.
That’s a lesson John Lydon has learned. “A lot of ill health came from neglecting my teeth,” he told a newspaper reporter. “I felt sick all the time, and I decided to do something about it… I’ve had all kinds of abscesses, jaw surgery. It costs money and is very painful. So Johnny says: ‘Get your brush!’”
Your gums can take a lot — they’re resilient and they endure a variety of abrasive foods over a lifetime. But resilience isn’t the same as invulnerability: your gums can be weakened by periodontal (gum) disease or by over-aggressive brushing that causes them to shrink away (recede) from the teeth they protect.
Unfortunately, it’s not a rare problem — millions suffer from some degree of gum recession, caused mainly by gum disease. This aggressive infection arises from bacteria in dental plaque, a thin film that builds up on tooth surfaces due to inadequate oral hygiene. Fortunately, gum disease can be effectively treated in its early stages by removing plaque above and below the gum line. Diseased gums will quickly rebound to their normal health.
Unfortunately, though, heavily recessed gums from advanced stages of gum disease (as well as those who’ve inherited thinner gum tissues and are more susceptible to recession) may not come back fully without help. This can affect the health and survival of affected teeth, as well as your appearance.
Plastic periodontal surgery can help restore these lost tissues. There are a number of procedures that can be used depending on the exact nature of the recession, and most involve some form of tissue grafting. A specimen of donated gum tissue (either from another portion of the patient’s gums or a thoroughly cleansed and properly processed donation from another person) is surgically attached to the gums at the recession site.
The graft can be completely freed from the harvest area or in some cases a part of it remains attached to receive blood supply while the rest is grafted to the site. These procedures, especially the latter, require meticulous skill and sophisticated microsurgical techniques to make an effective attachment. If the tooth root is involved, it must be thoroughly prepared beforehand through polishing and decontamination to ensure the new graft will take. The graft is sutured in place and sometimes covered with a moldable dressing for protection.
As the area heals, the tissues begin to grow around the graft, restoring better coverage for the tooth. Coupled with comprehensive gum disease treatment, this form of plastic surgery can restore new health to teeth and a transformed smile.