Getting a dental implant is a big deal. It changes how you live, how you eat, and how you take care of your mouth in every way. Your ability to eat your favorite foods will return, you’ll be able to smile without worry, and depending on how many teeth you’ve lost it can take years off of your look.
Dental implants are invisible once they’re placed and restored, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t different from your natural teeth. The implants we restore at 7 O’Clock Dental still require some careful attention to keep them healthy.
Implants And Teeth: Understanding The Anatomy
While dental implants may look, feel, and behave like natural teeth they are very different than the ones growing naturally in your mouth. The differences in how implants bond to your body and interact with your bone and soft tissue are what makes caring for them just a little bit different than a natural tooth.
Let’s start by talking about how a natural tooth stays in place. Teeth don’t come in direct contact with the bone that supports them. They’re separated by a thin layer of fibrous tissue called the periodontal ligament. The fibers of the ligament grab onto small pores in your bone and teeth, forming a bond that’s nearly impossible to break.
The periodontal ligament extends all the way to your gumline, and it plays a huge part in keeping oral bacteria from getting beneath your gumline. It still can, of course, and that’s when gum disease begins. Without the periodontal ligament your chances of getting gum disease would increase greatly.
Such is the problem with dental implants: there’s no periodontal ligament to support them at all. The titanium implant itself bonds directly to your bone through a process called osseointegration. This bond is just as strong – if not stronger – than the periodontal ligament, but the problem doesn’t lie with the implant itself. It’s the crown or bridge attached to it that’s more at risk.
Since the periodontal ligament doesn’t exist around an implant crown it’s up to the gums to do the job of fighting off bacteria. While they’re up for the task they’re nowhere near as tough as the ligament, which makes the risk of peri-implant disease higher than gum disease.
What Is Peri Implant Disease?
When bacteria gets beneath the gumline of a natural tooth we call it gum disease. Peri-implant disease is a similar condition that affects implants, but there are some key differences that make it a unique threat.
With no periodontal ligament separating the implant from the bone it’s much easier for bacteria to do damage faster. Peri-implant disease will damage gum tissue, causing symptoms like gum recession, bleeding, infection, redness, and swelling, but it will also damage bone.
As the bone supporting an implant is damaged by bacterial infection it quickly starts to waste away, exposing more and more of the implant as gums recede along with it. Before long the implant can come loose, even falling completely out.
The true horror of peri-implant disease is how difficult it is to restore lost implants. When an implant is lost due to infection bone mass has to be regrown, which is only possible with costly and time-consuming oral surgery. Your implants are an investment in your future – you don’t want to lose them to this easily prevented disease!
Keeping Your Implants Healthy
Don’t be scared about the difficulties of keeping implants healthy. It’s really no more difficult than keeping your natural teeth healthy, but with one key factor: you have to be really disciplined about it. That means always brushing twice a day and flossing every night – no exceptions!
It only takes oral bacteria about 24 hours to start irritating your gums, and it doesn’t take much longer after that to start getting beneath them. Good home care habits are essential in maintaining implant health, and with the proper practices there’s no reason you should ever lose them!
One last, but no less important factor, is to make sure you’re being seen at our New Orleans office twice a year for regular cleanings and exams. Since your implants are more vulnerable to infection we need to stay on top of their health and cleanliness! Even if you don’t have a single natural tooth left in your mouth we still need to see you.