If you're an adult who has lost a tooth, you can replace it with a dental implant or bridge. Replacing a missing tooth can keep your remaining teeth from shifting and causing a change in your appearance, and allow you to continue to chew and talk normally.
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A dental implant is a titanium post that serves as a root for the new artificial replacement tooth. The implant is placed into the jawbone. As the bone grows, it fuses to the titanium post, making it permanent. A temporary crown tops the implant while it heals and fuses; healing takes from six weeks to nine months, depending on the individual and the location of the implant. After healing, a permanent crown is made and attached to the implant. In the case of several missing teeth, one or more implants can secure a bridge or dentures.
A fixed partial denture, commonly known as a bridge, consists of one or more adjacent artificial teeth. A bridge is secured to sound teeth at either end. With a traditional bridge, the sound teeth are ground down and crowned and the bridge is secured to the crowns. With a Maryland or resin bonded bridge, the bridge is attached to the sound teeth with resin cement and metal bands. A cantilevered bridge can be used when only one attachment point is available.
Dental implants may be less noticeable and provide a more natural appearance. Dental implants provide more efficient chewing than bridges, which may slip. Bridges require sound teeth on either side of the missing tooth or teeth for placement; this isn't necessary in the case of dental implants. The teeth to which a traditional bridge is attached are permanently affected by the crowning process. With dental implants, adjacent teeth are unaffected. If one tooth to which a bridge is attached develops problems, the entire bridge will likely need to be replaced. Dental implants may be more expensive than bridges.
The average life span of a bridge, with proper oral hygiene, is eight to 15 years. Dental implants are considered permanent, although any crowns or bridges attached to them are subject to normal wear and tear and may need to be replaced at some point. Proper oral hygiene is crucial to the success of any restorative dental work.
With a dental implant, the jawbone is stimulated during chewing. This may prevent loss and shrinkage of the jawbone. Medical studies are being conducted to determine the potential for placing dental implants in patients with osteoporosis. When insufficient bone is present to place an implant, bone grafts may allow sufficient bone to develop.