These days, tooth loss is not an inevitable consequence of aging. Tooth implants are a more natural looking and increasingly popular alternative to bridges or dentures.
In the most common implant procedure, a small titanium anchor is surgically implanted under the gum line into the patient's jaw. After the bone has been allowed to grow around the anchor -- usually three to six months -- another surgery is required to uncover the implant anchor beneath the gum, and attach a small post to it. The replacement tooth, which is made of porcelain, metal, and polymer resin (the same types of materials used for dentures), is then attached to the post.
Implants are more comfortable and feel more secure than removable dentures. They also look more natural and, even better, can actually help prevent gum recession and damage to jawbones that come with missing teeth -- something a plate of dentures does nothing to prevent. Implants have a current survival rate of 70 to 95 percent after 10 years, according to the Academy of General Dentistry.
Implants aren't without potential problems, however. In some instances, the bone may not satisfactorily bond around the implant, causing the false tooth to loosen. Also, the dental work needed is neither simple nor inexpensive. Surgery to replace one or only a few teeth can cost as little as $1,000, but more complicated surgery, such as a bone graft to help rebuild the jaw, can cost up to $40,000, particularly if the surgery has to be done at a hospital.
In considering implants, it's crucial to find a dentist with extensive implant experience. Implant dentistry is not yet a specialty. Oral surgeons, periodontists, and general dentists can install implants. Contact the American Dental Association for a referral.