The use of dental implants to replace teeth lost to an accident, gum diseases or tooth decay is becoming popular.
Sreenivas Koka, chair of Mayo Clinic Department of Dental Specialties, discusses the advantages of dental implants and what's involved.
To place an implant, an oral surgeon or periodontist cuts open the gum to expose the jawbone and then drills a small hole in the bone for the metal cylinder that serves as the implant.
All this is done when the patient is under anaesthesia.
"It's almost like drilling a screw into the wall," Dr. Koka said.
It takes three months for the area to heal and for the implant to fuse with the jawbone.
Patients may undergo a second procedure in which a post, called an abutment, is attached or screwed down into the implant. This can be done at the same time the implant cylinder is put in or after the area has healed.
In the final step, the dentist attaches a realistic-looking artificial tooth to the implant or to the post. The entire process takes about four months.
According to Dr. Koka, a big advantage of the method is that an implant acts as a substitute for the roots of a natural tooth.
"If you are missing a single tooth, this allows you to leave the other teeth around it alone," Dr. Koka said.
"With a bridge, you have to cut down the teeth on each side of the empty space so that a false tooth can be held in place by two crowns," Dr. Koka added.
Almost any adult in reasonably good health is a candidate for dental implants.
Dr. Koka says that patients often ask if osteoporosis would prevent them from getting dental implants. It doesn't.
Mayo Clinic research has shown that patients with osteoporosis or those taking oral bisphosphonates used to treat osteoporosis have about the same success rate as other patients.
And the success rates for dental implants are high -- 90 to 96 percent.