Dental implants are one way to address missing teeth and, unlike most dentures, are a fixed solution.
If you’re considering options for replacing one or more teeth and want something more permanent than regular dentures, consider talking to your dentist about dental implants.*
Dental implants are one possible solution for missing teeth. The dental implant procedure can be more costly than other options and involves surgical risks, so it's important to know certain information upfront.
What is a dental implant?
A dental implant is a strong metal post made of titanium that supports one or more prosthetic teeth. Prosthetic teeth that attach to implants can be fixed, removable, or a combination of both.
Implants are surgically placed in the jaw by a dentist or a specialist, where they more or less serve the same function as the missing tooth root. The implant is designed to bond with the jaw bone over time to become a stable foundation for crowns, bridges or removable dentures.
Why consider a dental implant?
There can be health risks associated with missing teeth. Sometimes gaps left by missing teeth can lead to problems in nearby teeth, and they may cause functional issues with chewing or speaking. Read more about missing teeth.
There are potential benefits to addressing missing teeth, and dental implants are just one potential option (and there are different types of dental implants). Generally, when compared to other treatments for missing teeth, the potential benefits of dental implants may include:
- a fixed approach, unlike regular removable dentures
- an alternative for people who are unable to wear regular dentures
- if well cared for, implants can last for many years.
Who can get dental implants?
Dental implants aren't right for everyone. There may be medical reasons why a dental implant isn’t suitable, such as not having enough bone volume in your jaw.
Implants won’t suit everyone’s budget or personal preferences, either. Your dentist should explain what the procedure involves, how long it may take, and give you a breakdown of costs during an initial consultation so you can decide if it's the right choice.
You might be suitable for implants if:
- you want a permanent option to replace missing teeth
- your jaw bone is large enough to support an implant, or you're eligible for bone grafting
- you don't have gum disease or a bone condition
- your jaws have finished developing (generally considered to be around 18 years of age, but this should be discussed with your dentist).
What does the dental implant procedure involve?
Getting dental implants normally involves a series of appointments over several months. After your dentist or oral surgeon places the implant in your jaw, it needs time to bond with the bone before the replacement tooth or teeth can be attached.
When the implant has bonded and is stable, your dentist will take a mould of your mouth and remaining teeth. They’ll use this to design your replacement tooth or teeth, which may be made from porcelain or other materials and aims to look as natural as possible.
If you choose a ‘fixed’ option, a replacement tooth is then screwed or cemented onto the implant. There are also removable options — for example, a partial or full denture can be snapped into place over the implant foundation and then removed as needed for daily cleaning or repairs.
If your jaw isn’t thick enough or is too soft for an implant, a bone grafting procedure may be an option. This can help increase the jaw’s density by transferring bone from another part of your body or a donor, or using a synthetic bone-like material.
However, this involves more surgery and clinical risks, and you may not be eligible for bone grafting if you have certain medical conditions.
If you’re missing all of your upper or lower teeth, your dentist might talk to you about full-arch implants (such as the All-on-4® treatment concept). This option uses four to six implants to support a whole arch (row) of teeth. Usually, this procedure is more appropriate if you’re missing most or all of your teeth rather than just a few.
Dentists position some of the implants at angles, which helps provide support if the jaw is deficient in bone. This might make them a potential solution for people with smaller jaws or if bone grafting isn’t an option.
What to expect after dental implants
It's normal to have some pain, bruising, swelling or minor bleeding after dental implant surgery. Your dentist can advise ways to manage this, which may include taking over-the-counter medication. If bleeding doesn't stop or you have other unexpected symptoms, make an emergency appointment with your dentist or doctor.
You should take it easy and eat soft foods after implant surgery to help your mouth heal. It’s important to keep brushing and flossing your teeth and around the implant to prevent gum disease. Your dentist can give you more tailored advice for looking after your implant.
Can I get dental implants overseas?
Some Australians and New Zealanders seek dental implants overseas as a way to cut costs. The Australian Dental Association and other health authorities discourage so-called “dental tourism” due to higher risks of something going wrong and fewer means of recourse if it does.1
Some clinics may not have the same strict standards as those in Australia, but this depends on the country, region and individual practitioner. While it’s certainly not true that only dentists in Australia or New Zealand can provide dental implants, going abroad for your procedure might make it harder to make an informed decision, particularly if you’re not familiar with factors like local languages, customs or industry standards.
What are the alternatives to dental implants?
Other options to replace missing teeth include dental bridges or regular dentures.
These can be cheaper than dental implants initially, but involve other considerations like replacement frequency, comfort and how they match your overall lifestyle.
Speak to a dental professional about implants
If you’re curious about implants, find a dental clinic near you. Listings on Dental Care Network will tell you if the clinic offers dental implants.
*Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner
1 Australian Dental Association. Dental Tourism [Online; accessed May 2019] Available from: https://www.ada.org.au
The purpose of this article is to promote better understanding of dental health topics. It’s not meant to replace professional advice or diagnosis. Always talk to a dentist, doctor or other qualified healthcare professional if you have a question about dental or medical conditions.