Tired of loose teeth? Implants have come a long way

Carol Sponagle

Jim Cribbett of Riverton, Ill., had dentures since he was 25 years old.

By the time the retired program analyst and National Guard assistant fire chief was 64, he was tired of worrying about his lower dentures.

“Lowers just do not stay in,” Cribbett says, a complaint common among people who wear dentures.

Eating certain foods, such as crunchy apples, can be difficult with dentures. Then there’s worry they will slip in public.

Cribbett opted for a relatively new procedure to solve these problems: a surgical procedure called dental implants. Dentists started using implants around 1965, and the popularity and advancement of the technology continues to increase.

Most people will lose adult teeth during their lifetime. In the U.S., about 69 percent of adults ages 35 to 44 have lost at least one permanent tooth due to accident, a failed root canal, tooth decay or gum disease. By age 74, at least 26 percent of adults have lost permanent teeth. 

According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, dental implants are almost always the best option for replacing them. In the past, replacements included removable dentures that rest on the gum line or fixed bridges anchored to adjacent teeth. But with dental implants, teeth are surgically implanted in the gums, giving replacement teeth a more natural feel and appearance.

In addition to looking and feeling more like natural teeth, dental implants last longer than fixed bridges and removable dentures, which last about 15 years. Implants are a permanent solution to missing teeth.

One of the biggest benefits of implants is the prevention of bone deterioration. Dr. Matt VanderMolen, owner of Advanced Dental Care in Springfield, Ill., says tooth loss can lead to deterioration of the jawbone.

“It literally melts away,” he says. “ … Implants fool the body into thinking there’s teeth in there, so it preserves the bone.”

Preserving facial bones makes a huge difference in a person’s physical appearance, VanderMolen says, so opting for dental implants over partials and regular dentures can boost self-esteem.

Though implants are frequently the best option for tooth replacement, VanderMolen says they are expensive.

Cribbett says he is happy with his implants.

“If you’ve ever had dentures that move around, it’s well worth the price,” he said.

The procedure

* A dental implant placement team — most often an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, restorative dentist and surgical care staff — decides the best solution for tooth replacement. Options can range from replacement or one or more teeth, replacement of a top or bottom row, or full replacement.

* During surgery, tiny titanium posts are surgically implanted within the jawbone as anchors for the implants. Patients wear temporary teeth and eat a soft diet while the implants bond to the jawbone (two to six months).

* As patients recover from the surgical procedure, the jawbone slowly begins to bond with the titanium (a process called osseonintegration), creating an anchor for new teeth.

* Implants are attached to small post anchors.

* New teeth are attached to posts.

We’ve come a long way

Concerned about getting dental implant surgery? While few surgeries can be described as fun, replacing teeth in the old days was a bit more … primitive.

According to GreatImplantDentist.com, ancient Egyptians replaced teeth by shaping seashells and hammering them into the gums. Animal bones and ivory were also used.

If you lost a tooth in the 1700s, donor teeth were inserted. That didn’t work too well — a person’s immune system often rejected the teeth from a friend, Roman or countryman (but you could still lend an ear).

Gold and platinum gained favor in the 1800s, but, again, long-term success was rare (despite what pirate lore might tell you). In 1952, a Swedish doctor accidentally discovered that titanium can bond irreversibly with living bone tissue. Thirteen years later, the process of implanting titanium in bone for the purpose of rooting prosthetic teeth began.

Implants performed per dentist really took off in the mid-1990s. An American Dental Association survey showed the number of implants performed per dentist nearly doubled between 1995 and 2002.

-- Be Healthy Springfield (Ill.)