Implants: A Dentalmental Journey
by Marjorie Dorfman
Do you dread the thought of losing your natural teeth? Are you aware of the many alternatives, humorous and otherwise, that are available on the dental market today? Read on and learn about dental implants and whether or not they are for you.
If any lay person can consider themselves an authority on the subject of dental implants, it's got to be me. My knowledge comes from the worst possible source: first-hand experience. Implants run in my family. My dad tried some of the early ones, (unsightly studded creatures) back in the sixties. Unfortunately, they offered him no relief from his lack of bone and loose dentures. Dentistry has come a long way since then and I currently have five implants. They reside peacefully within my mouth. (For what they cost me, I should charge them rent, even though it would be difficult for them to get out and look for a job!) Don't get me wrong. I am happy that I have them. It's just that it wasn't easy getting to that point. They live, chomp and love as if they were my own true teeth in every way, except for the fact that I paid for them!
What is an implant anyway? Good question, even though you didn't ask it. An implant is actually no more than a metal screw that is placed into the jawbone. It acts as an anchor for a false tooth or a set of false teeth. In many cases, implants are stronger than natural teeth, having 100 percent better chewing efficiency. When I first had mine done about seven years ago, and flew on a commercial airline, I was convinced the metal detector would go off and tag me as some kind of potential terrorist, but it didn't. Nothing at all unusual happened, in fact, except that I arrived at my destination precisely on schedule.
Missing teeth, known as edentulism, prevent many people from feeling confident about their appearance. If not treated, partial edentulism, that is, missing some teeth, can place stress on the remaining teeth, requiring them to do more work. This can lead to further tooth loss. As we get older and our life spans increase, the need for some type of permanent dental replacement becomes very important to our overall health. Dentures and removable bridges can be loose and unstable, (just like my ex-husband). Implants are both functional and aesthetic and anyone in reasonable health, with or without party affiliation, can become a candidate for dental implants.
For years, the best solutions for missing teeth were bridges (non-toll), removable partial, or full dentures. Whenever several teeth are missing, a removable partial may provide the support needed to fill in the spaces. These dentures usually attach to natural teeth with clasps and hooks, which are unsightly and can cause undue stress on existing natural teeth and promote tooth decay. Full dentures are fine for some, although not without problems for others. Pain and irritation of the gums are natural side effects for denture wearers as well as difficulties eating or speaking. Removable teeth, no matter how well made, do not feel or function as real teeth. In the past, fixed bridges probably came as close as possible as one could expect, but they require a "cutting down" and crowning of natural healthy teeth to support the bridge. If nothing at all is done, Mother Nature will step in by assuming that if the teeth are gone, there is no need for the bone that supported them. (It's almost like the bedroom that becomes something else after the kids go away to college!)
I won't say implants are painful because everyone's threshold varies. I didn't experience true pain, but it was uncomfortable to hear drilling so close to my jawbone. It made me think they were digging for gold, which in a way, I suppose they were. I needed many injections and more than a few in the palette to numb the area thoroughly. This is a very sensitive area of the mouth because the layer of skin is so very thin. I found those shots to be more painful than the actual procedure. All in all, I opt for being somewhere else when the party is going on. Soar the sailing ships in your mind and don't worry if afterwards you don't recall the voyage. Pick an oral surgeon if this appeals to you, as a regular dentist cannot administer anesthesia. I had some wonderful opiate called Brevitol. (I begged the doctor for a little extra for rainy days, but Mr. Morality refused.)
Something needs to be said here about the professionals who perform this surgery. I was lucky that there were no repercussions, even though I did not choose an oral surgeon. I used my regular dentist whom at the time I felt comfortable with. (In the end, he turned out to be like poison left lying around a table, but that is another dental tale altogether.) Only blindness could have caused me not to notice the little plaque on the wall deeming him a certified implant specialist. It was situated so close to my face that I could have spit upon it (and should have.) A word to the wise. There is no such thing as a specialty of Implant dentistry. The areas most aligned with implants are Prosthodontics, Oral And Maxillofacial Surgery and Periodontics. If a dentist tells you he or she is Board Certified in Implantology, run! (Do not pass go and do not collect $200.)
A word about the cost of these wonderful things. At the time that I did mine, I paid approximately $900 per implant. Today the cost is almost double from what I have heard. It has also come to my attention that some dentists don't charge per implant but rather an overall fee according to the complexity of the procedure. This is certainly much better for the patient, especially if more than one implant and a bone graft or other such thing is required. I had one of those as well because my top three implants did not have enough bone to support them. As it turned out, I didn't have enough money to support them either!
If you are wondering if implants ever fail, research indicates that very few of them do. If this does happen, the implant will be replaced at no additional charge. The success rate depends very much upon where the implants are placed and what they will be called upon to do. They work best in the front portion of the lower jaw where success is as high as 98-100%. In other area of the mouth, success rates can drop significantly. In the front part of the upper jaw the rates are 90-95%. In the back part of the upper and the lower jaw the range of success is 85-95%.
My five frolic and play and all I have to do is keep them clean and check in at the dentist every few months. It seems a small price to pay for not having to put my teeth in a glass at night. (This may not be a constitutional right, but it is a form of freedom, nonetheless.) Whether we wear red, yellow or green and eat our meat rare, well done or not at all, are matters of personal preference. Speaking for myself, I like the sailing ships that carry me far away from the dental and the mundane. Keep on eating and chewing. That's the important thing. If you don't think so, consider the alternative!
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