Have you ever had a nightmare about losing your teeth?
If you have, you’re not alone; this is a type of anxiety dream that is extremely common, just like dreams about falling. No one knows exactly why we have these nightmares; a 2018 study suggested that it may happen because of dental irritation and the way our brain interprets that sensation while we’re dreaming. In any case, it’s clear that we find these dreams disturbing, because the idea of losing our teeth is a scary one.
Why is that? Well, first of all, depending where the missing tooth is, it can be unsightly. The gap could cause neighboring teeth to move, and this could change your bite and cause food trapping, which is uncomfortable and can negatively affect the health of your other teeth. Losing several teeth may affect support of the lips and cheeks, which makes people look older than they are. A changing bite might lead to jaw problems and discomfort as well.
Most of all, until modern times, loss of a tooth was permanent: you could never grow one back, and any problems mentioned above would persist for the rest of your life.
Thankfully, in our day, we no longer have to live in fear of these nightmares coming true. Even if we do lose a tooth, we have a way to replace it: the dental implant.
A dental implant is essentially a screw placed into the jawbone to replace the root of a tooth. Once this screw is in place, the dentist can replace the top part of the tooth with a crown—or, if necessary, a bridge or dentures, using several implants.
Implants are made of titanium. Titanium has two advantages: it is corrosion-resistant, and it has a very high strength-to-density ratio. This is also the reason titanium is used for hip and knee replacements.
Dental implants are a well-established treatment method that have been used for over 30 years. Their longevity depends to a large extent on how well they are maintained, both by the patient and by the patient’s dentist. In ideal conditions, implants can last for decades.
Once an implant is inserted, it needs to fuse to the jawbone to become stable. This process, called osseointegration, involves living bone cells attaching to the artificial implant. To allow osseointegration to occur, it is often best to leave an implant unloaded (without installing a crown) for 3-4 months. Sometimes, though, it is possible to immediately load an implant with a crown. Usually, in cases involving front teeth, we will find a temporary solution to ensure that the patient doesn’t need to walk around without front teeth—often using neighbouring teeth for support.
Implants can replace a single missing tooth or a whole arch of teeth, for which four to six implants might sometimes be sufficient.
Whether the implant will be successful depends on a number of factors. You can have implants placed at any age, but there needs to be a sufficient amount of bone present to accept the implant, and that bone needs to be healthy and strong enough. Smoking and a vitamin D deficiency, for example, may impair the bone. Other factors depend on the skills and knowledge of the surgeon: placing the implant with too much force, or overheating the bone when preparing the implant site, may negatively affect the success of the implant. Lastly, good oral hygiene is imperative.
The procedure itself is usually pain-free, thanks to local anaesthetics, and it often takes around the same time as having a large filling placed. Post-treatment pain is usually minimal, and patients can usually return to their normal routine the following day.
Dental implants, when maintained as one cares for their teeth, provide stability and confidence in your smile. Therefore, the long-term value of dental implants can often exceed traditional treatment options.
You may not be able to get rid of the losing-teeth nightmares, but at least in waking life, you can rest assured that if that scenario does come to pass, modern dentistry has you covered.