If you have lost an entire arch of teeth (top and/or bottom), or are soon to have your remaining teeth removed because they are too unhealthy to save, you may be able to replace them with fixed dentures supported by dental implants. Doctors and patients alike prefer fixed over removable dentures because they:
Dental implants serve the same purpose as the roots of natural teeth: anchoring the replacement teeth to your jawbone. Just like natural tooth roots, they lie under the gum line and therefore are not visible in the mouth. Only the lifelike prosthetic teeth attached to them (the fixed denture) can be seen by you or anyone else. Because dental implants are made of titanium, a metal that has the unique ability to fuse to living bone, they are extremely stable and reliable. How many implants are needed? The number varies because each individual has unique conditions: Depending on the volume and density of the bone in your jaw, you will need as few as four implants or as many as six for your new teeth to function as well as a set of healthy, natural teeth.
The surgery to place dental implants that support a fixed denture is a simple, routine procedure carried out in an office setting, under local anesthesia in most cases. (If you need to have failing teeth removed, that will be done first, often the same day your implants are placed). After numbing the area, the appropriate number of implants will be placed in your jaw at precisely planned angles and positions to maximize support and avoid anatomical structures such as nerves and sinuses. Depending on how many implants are needed, the surgery can take anywhere from one to three hours. Most people who have dental implants placed find that any post-operative discomfort can be managed with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Some don’t even need to take that.
What happens immediately after surgery will depend on what’s best to promote healing in your individual situation. Sometimes a set of temporary teeth can be attached immediately, so that you can leave the office with new teeth. A few months later, your permanent replacement teeth with be installed. In other cases, the implants will be left to heal for several months before any teeth are attached. Sometimes that is the best way to insure that the implants remain undisturbed as they go through the process of fusing to your jawbone, which is known as osseointegration.
In either case, you will need to go easy on your newly placed implants during the crucial healing phase following surgery. You will be advised to eat a softer diet and avoid hard, chewy foods until the process of osseointegration is complete — about three months. While this may seem like a long time, keep in mind that people who wear removable dentures often avoid these foods permanently. The good news is that once your implants have fused to your jawbone and your new permanent teeth are attached, you will be able to eat anything you want. In fact, you are likely to forget you even have dental implants!