Ask the Dentist: What's the story with dental implants?

Dentist Lucy Stock of Gentle Dental Care in Belfast says dental implants have had a high success rate since the 60s

A computer generated image of a dental implant, showing the titanium implant inserted through the gum into the bone
Lucy Stock

DENTAL implants have been used to replace missing teeth since the mid-1960s. Around 27 million people in the UK have a missing tooth, meaning that more and more people are seeking to replace their teeth with dental implants.

Implants are used to support crowns replacing single missing teeth, bridges that restore a larger span of missing teeth, or even dentures. They are manufactured from titanium, a metal that is known to be compatible with body tissues and able to bond with bone.The success rate of dental implants has been reported in scientific literature as 98 per cent.

As with anything medical or dental, we have heard about people where the treatment has not been successful, so what makes a dental implant last?

Imagine the dental implant like a castle surrounded by a moat except in this case the water is bone. For an implant to have optimum longevity the implant should have a wide 'moat' of bone 360 degrees around it. So if you have thin bone then often this needs to be widened first and then the implant placed to give the implant better stability.

As well as fat bone, the type of gum around the implant is important too. Some people have a thin type of gum; however, implants favour a thick type of gum with lots of collagen fibres that hug the implant tight, creating a seal.

Importantly an implant needs to be placed so that it can function correctly when you chew and look as good as possible. It's a balance of placing just the right number of implants, depending on an individual's requirements. Your experienced implant dentist will discuss what's best for you.

How healthy you are also affects implants. For example, if you’re a diabetic and don't control your blood sugars carefully enough then just like the rest of the body, infection can result around dental implants. In a similar vein, just as smokers' teeth become loose, cigarettes will destroy bone around implants too.

Lastly dental implants perform best when they are kept spit spot clean. So if someone cleans their implants a couple of times a day and goes to the hygienist regularly for professional cleans then this helps stop infection setting in and makes the implant last as long as possible.

Lifetime guarantees on any medical or dental treatments are unrealistic but a lot can be done to maximise success.

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