Our first president, George Washington, never really wore dentures made of wood. He did have a full set of dentures by age 60, but they were constructed of ivory and human teeth. Fortunately, times have changed. To replace teeth nowadays, there are other choices. All of which George would probably have preferred.
What choices do I have for replacing teeth?
At Lifetime Dental Health, there are several options for replacing missing or damaged teeth, depending on the reason for replacement, which teeth are being replaced, and the condition of your gums and the bones of your jaw.
Most of us have heard of dental bridges and seen photos of dentures in a glass of water. Bridges are much the same as dentures, though they are usually used to replace a few teeth, not all of them. These options have several things in common, especially the fact that they sit atop your natural gums. This means that they can be removed. Dentures and bridges are common solutions for teeth replacement, but they are not permanent.
A permanent solution for many people is a dental implant, which is as close as you can get to natural teeth. In fact, implants are the only dental restoration option that not only saves your natural bone, but actually stimulates bone growth. The American Academy of Implant Dentistry says to think of an implant as an “artificial tooth root.” Essentially, a dental implant is a screw that’s placed into your jaw to hold an artificial crown, bridge, or denture. Today’s implants are made of the precious metal, titanium, which has been found to naturally fuse to human bones, including those that comprise our jaws.
Who is a good candidate for a dental implant?
The main reason many people prefer dental implants to traditional dentures is that implants are permanent and therefore more stable than dentures, which sometimes slip or shift in your mouth. But not everyone is a good candidate for an implant.
For an implant to be successful, the bones in your jaw need to be strong and healthy in order to support the implant and the replacement tooth. Unfortunately, when someone loses a tooth or has a tooth damaged by trauma, bone can also be lost or compromised. If a lot of bone is gone, what’s left may not be sufficient to handle a standard dental implant.
In that case, you may still be a candidate for what’s called a mini dental implant (MDI), which uses a smaller post. There are other reasons you might be better suited for an MDI than a standard implant, but lack of sufficient healthy bone is the most common.
How do mini dental implants differ from standard dental implants?
Based on their name, you’ve probably already figured out the main reason. MDIs are smaller than standard implants: about half as wide in most cases. In addition, the design of MDIs has been adapted to accommodate conditions that are not sufficient for a standard implant.
MDIs are constructed differently from standard implants. Standard implants consist of a post with an abutment, to which the replacement crown is attached. The post of an MDI has a ball at one end and a rubber O-ring that holds the crown in place.
MDIs fit in your mouth differently than standard implants. Standard implants are placed completely under your gums. MDIs, while also drilled into your jawbone, stick out a bit over your gums.
Both types of implants are permanent, although MDIs, because of their size and unique design, have a lower tolerance for hard foods (hard candy, ice, nuts, corn-on-the-cob), so they are more vulnerable to breakage than standard implants. Their durability can also be affected by poor oral care, smoking, alcohol or drug abuse, and osteoporosis. Basically, what’s true for your natural teeth is true for implants: Take good care of them and they could last you a lifetime.
What are the pros and cons of MDIs?
There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages to MDIs. The biggest advantage of MDIs is that they work for people with significant bone loss, whether from periodontal disease, tooth misalignment, or trauma. Major bone loss will keep you from getting a standard implant; however, even with noticeable bone loss, an MDI can be a satisfying option. MDIs also have the advantage of being able to be placed anywhere in the mouth, to replace several teeth or a single tooth.
Another advantage is that MDIs do not require major surgery. Standard implants include bone grafting, so your mouth needs time to heal before a crown can be attached. In an MDI procedure, anchors are implanted in the jaw through a much less invasive technique that eliminates grafting. The whole procedure takes less time – as little as an hour in some cases – less drilling and less material. This means it usually costs less and requires fewer office visits.
On the other side, of course, there are some drawbacks to MDIs versus standard dental implants. Most obvious is that being smaller, more than one MDI may be needed to accomplish what a single standard implant could. As mentioned before, MDIs have a weaker chewing force, so they are more vulnerable to breakage. And the O-rings involved in keeping the MDI’s crown in place eventually wear out and must be replaced.
So…which dental implant is right for you?
Oral health is important at any stage in your life, but especially if you have lost a tooth. The question of whether a dental implant – standard or mini – is right for you is one that should be answered only after careful thought. Our professionals can help. Make an appointment for a consultation with us by phone or online. We can even help you navigate your dental insurance. Just give us a call, we’re ready and waiting to serve you!