Dentures are a double edge sword in that I can make them look good as teeth but it’s difficult to make them feel as good as teeth. Most people who have never worn dentures don’t understand this fully, but I’m sure any of my readers who are currently wearing a set of dentures know what I’m talking about. The reason for this dichotomy is that dentures are essentially plastic that is shaped and colored to look like teeth and gums. If Hollywood special effects artists can make an actor look like an alien with realistic in photos with costumes, makeup, and latex masks, it’s certainly possible for a dentist to do the same with dentures. However, for that costume to function and to move realistically in the movie, often computer special effects or robotics are needed. Teeth thankfully are much simpler part of the body to mimic than an arm or a leg which is why dental implants are a routine part of dental treatment. The three biggest concerns I get with implants are the process, the pain, and the price, and I’d like to spend today’s blog post addressing each of these issues.
Implants are in essence a titanium screw that goes into the bone of the mouth to replace the root of a tooth. Implants are usually pretty darn routine to place and the equipment that is used to make them is similar to what a carpenter would use to set screws in wood or sheetrock. The biggest difference between the two is that quite a bit more planning goes into where to place an individual implant into bone vs into a piece of lumber. To determine where to place an implant, first, the dentist has to decide where is a tooth root needed to support the dental prosthesis whether it is an individual tooth crown or a denture replacing 14 teeth. Dentists determine this by looking at a 3D x-ray as well as models of your mouth to find the best areas that can support the prosthesis as well have adequate bone to hold the implant. During the surgery, the dentist flattens the bone in the area to make an ideal location and then places the implant into the bone much like you would place a screw into a 2x4. The next step is to let the area heal for a time between 3 to 6 months. Occasionally it is possible to place a temporary tooth onto the implant the same day, but the implant is covered by the gums till the implant has attached to the bone. After healing, the implant is either attached to the denture or a new crown is made to fit onto the implant.
I’m sure many of you read that part about your jaw being treated as a piece of pine and cringed a bit. Many people are scared about how much this will hurt. From the implants I’ve placed and the more that I’ve restored, this isn’t painful, and most patients have found an over the counter pain medicine like Advil or Tylenol does the trick. My patients who have had implants generally describe it as less painful than a tooth extraction, and they are much less sore than they expected. They certainly are happy as soon as I actually replace the tooth that they have been missing and they seem to love the benefits of it.
The final and sometimes more important concern is the price. The main reason I offer financing is so that more patients can afford implants, but even for some people, this isn’t doable. Unfortunately, for replacing a single tooth, it’s often difficult to modify the procedure so that the price can change significantly. When I am giving a person back one tooth, I have to work in a small area where the type of bone and gums dictate how the process is done. However, for implants that help hold in a denture, we have plenty more options. While the best option is to have 8 implants on the top jaw and 5 on the bottom jaw, we can work with 4 on the top and 2 on the bottom. With good planning, we can make it so that it becomes routine to add new implants in the future. Perhaps we start out with 2 implants on the bottom, then in two years add a third implant and then in another five years add two more implants. In a period of five years, we have moved from a comfortable albeit not perfect lower denture to a great lower denture to a lower denture that functions as well as natural teeth.
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I hope that this blog has been useful to some of you who are considering implants for your dentures. It is wonderful treatment option that has changed the lives of many patients allowing them to eat great food and smile with confidence. If you are considering implants, talk to your dentist at your next appointment to see what is available to you and figure out what makes the most sense for your mouth.