Dental implants are popular with both patients and dentists for their durability and likeness to natural teeth. That natural look, though, can be difficult to attain, especially in what’s known as the “smile zone” — the area of the mouth where teeth are most visible when you smile.
Our biggest concern is the upper front teeth, where the gums are most visible, especially if you smile widely. It takes considerable skill, experience and artistry to position implants in this area so that they appear to naturally emerge from the gums and blend well with other teeth.
To obtain that natural look, we must first assess whether or not there’s enough bone present, which tends to dissolve (resorb) when a tooth is missing, to sufficiently anchor the implant in the right position. There also needs to be sufficient bone around adjacent teeth to support the tiny triangles of gum tissue between teeth called papillae. Without the papillae an unattractive black hole may result between the implant and an adjacent tooth or implant.
Another factor we must consider is the type of gum tissue you have. Everyone generally inherits one of two types of tissue from their parents: thin or thick. The type you have can influence the way the implant appears to emerge from the gums. If you have thick gums, they’re easier to work with and can cover more of the implant. Thinner tissues aren’t quite as easy and are less forgiving if an implant isn’t placed as precisely as possible.
In recent years, improvements in implant design have sought to provide greater stability around bone and gum tissues to offset some of the issues we’ve mentioned. A variation on the design of the top of the implant (where the crown is attached) changes the direction of growth for gum tissues from a horizontal orientation to a vertical one, which can help with the final appearance.
The first step, if you’re considering dental implants for a tooth in the smile zone, is to visit us for a complete examination to see if any of these factors may have an impact on your situation. We can then advise you on the best course of action to achieve the most attractive smile possible.
If you would like more information on dental implants, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Implant Aesthetics.”
The “magic” behind a dental implant’s durability is the special affinity its imbedded titanium post has with bone. Over time bone grows and attaches to the titanium surface to produce a strong and secure hold.
But there’s one important prerequisite for ultimate implant success—there must be an adequate amount of bone available initially to properly position the post during implantation. Otherwise, the implant may not have enough support to position it properly or cover the implant surface completely with bone.
Inadequate bone can be a problem for patients who lost teeth some time before and now desire to an implant restoration. This happens because when teeth are missing, so are the forces they generate during chewing. These forces stimulate new bone growth around the tooth root to replace older, dissolved bone at a healthy rate. If that replacement rate is too slow, the volume and density of bone may gradually diminish.
There is a way, though, to build up the bone for future implantation. Known as bone preservation procedure or a ridge augmentation, it’s a surgical procedure in which the dentist adds bone grafting material to the extraction socket or the bony ridge. The graft serves as a scaffold for new bone cells to grow and multiply. If successful, there will be enough new bone volume after several months of healing to support proper implant placement.
Bone grafting can add more time to the implant process. It may also mean you will not be able to undergo immediate crown placement after implantation (a “tooth in one day” procedure). Instead we would probably suture gum tissue over the implant to protect it and allow for full integration with the bone over a few more months. In the meantime, though, we could fit you with a temporary restoration like a removable partial denture (RPD) or a bonded bridge to improve the appearance of the space while the bone continues to heal.
After several months, your implant will have a better chance of a secure hold and we can then attach a life-like crown. Even if you’ve suffered bone loss, you’ll then have the benefit of not only a durable implant but also a new smile.
You’re considering dental implants and you’ve done your homework: you know they’re considered the best tooth replacements available prized for durability and life-likeness. But you do have one concern — you have a metal allergy and you’re not sure how your body will react to the implant’s titanium and other trace metals.
An allergy is the body’s defensive response against any substance (living or non-living) perceived as a threat. Allergic reactions can range from a mild rash to rare instances of death due to multiple organ system shutdowns.
A person can become allergic to anything, including metals. An estimated 17% of women and 3% of men are allergic to nickel, while 1-3% of the general population to cobalt and chromium. While most allergic reactions occur in contact with consumer products (like jewelry) or metal-based manufacturing, some occur with metal medical devices or prosthetics, including certain cardiac stents and hip or knee replacements.
There are also rare cases of swelling or rashes in reaction to metal fillings, commonly known as dental amalgam. A mix of metals — mainly mercury with traces of silver, copper and tin — dental amalgam has been used for decades with the vast majority of patients experiencing no reactions. Further, amalgam has steadily declined in use in recent years as tooth-colored composite resins have become more popular.
Which brings us to dental implants: the vast majority are made of titanium alloy. Titanium is preferred in implants not only because it’s biocompatible (it “gets along” well with the body’s immune system), but also because it’s osteophilic, having an affinity with living bone tissue that encourages bone growth around and attached to the titanium. Both of these qualities make titanium a rare trigger for allergies even for people with a known metal allergy.
Still, implant allergic reactions do occur, although in only 0.6% of all cases, or six out of a thousand patients. The best course, then, is to let us know about any metal allergies you may have (or other systemic conditions, for that matter) during our initial consultation for implants. Along with that and other information, we'll be better able to advise you on whether implants are right for you.
If you would like more information on the effects of metal allergies on dental implants, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Metal Allergies to Dental Implants.”
When die-hard music fans hear that their favorite performer is canceling a gig, it’s a big disappointment—especially if the excuse seems less than earth-shaking. Recently, British pop sensation Dua Lipa needed to drop two dates from her world tour with Bruno Mars. However, she had a very good reason.
“I’ve been performing with an awful pain due to my wisdom teeth,” the singer tweeted, “and as advised by my dentist and oral surgeon I have had to have them imminently removed.”
The dental problem Lipa had to deal with, impacted wisdom teeth, is not uncommon in young adults. Also called third molars, wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt (emerge from beneath the gums), generally making their appearance between the ages of 18-24. But their debut can cause trouble: Many times, these teeth develop in a way that makes it impossible for them to erupt without negatively affecting the healthy teeth nearby. In this situation, the teeth are called “impacted.”
A number of issues can cause impacted wisdom teeth, including a tooth in an abnormal position, a lack of sufficient space in the jaw, or an obstruction that prevents proper emergence. The most common treatment for impaction is to extract (remove) one or more of the wisdom teeth. This is a routine in-office procedure that may be performed by general dentists or dental specialists.
It’s thought that perhaps 7 out of 10 people ages 20-30 have at least one impacted wisdom tooth. Some cause pain and need to be removed right away; however, this is not always the case. If a wisdom tooth is found to be impacted and is likely to result in future problems, it may be best to have it extracted before symptoms appear. Unfortunately, even with x-rays and other diagnostic tests, it isn’t always possible to predict exactly when—or if—the tooth will actually begin causing trouble. In some situations, the best option may be to carefully monitor the tooth at regular intervals and wait for a clearer sign of whether extraction is necessary.
So if you’re around the age when wisdom teeth are beginning to appear, make sure not to skip your routine dental appointments. That way, you might avoid emergency surgery when you’ve got other plans—like maybe your own world tour!
If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
Teeth grinding and other biting habits are more than a nuisance — they can generate twenty to thirty times the forces of normal biting. Over the long term, this can cause significant damage to teeth and supporting gums and bone.
This particular kind of damage is known as occlusal trauma (meaning injury from the bite). In its primary form, the habit itself over time can injure and inflame the jaw joints leading to soreness, swelling and dysfunction. The teeth themselves can wear down at a much faster rate than what normally occurs with aging. And although less common but even more serious, the periodontal ligaments holding teeth in place to the bone can stretch and weaken, causing the teeth to become loose and increasing the potential for tooth loss.
There are a number of techniques and approaches for treating excessive biting habits, but they all have a common aim — to reduce the amount of force generated by the habit and the associated problems that result. A custom occlusal guard, often worn while sleeping, helps lessen the force by keeping the teeth from making solid contact with each other. Tissue soreness and swelling can be relieved with anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen, muscle relaxants or physical therapy. In cases where stress is a main driver, behavioral therapy and counseling may also be helpful.
Biting forces are also an issue for patients with periodontal (gum) disease. In this case even biting forces within normal ranges can cause damage because the diseased gums and bone have already been weakened. If gum disease is a factor, the first priority is to treat the disease by removing built up plaque. Plaque is the thin film of bacteria and food remnant that’s both the cause and continuing growth of the infection, as well as tartar (calculus) from all tooth and gum surfaces.
A thorough dental exam will reveal whether a tooth grinding habit is playing a role in your teeth and gum problems or if it’s magnifying the damage of gum disease. In either case, there are appropriate steps to stop the damage before it leads to tooth loss.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding or other biting habits, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Loose Teeth.”
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