Are you missing some teeth? It’s a common problem. More than half of all Americans are missing at least one, and a shocking 30% of adults age 65 to 74 have no natural teeth, according to the American College of Prosthodontists (ACP).
Tooth decay, bone loss, or trauma could lead to missing teeth. And it’s not just a cosmetic concern, though many people are uncomfortable with their appearance if they have gaps in their smile.
When you’re missing teeth, adjacent teeth can shift, changing the way you bite and chew. Without a tooth root, you can start to lose bone in your jaw. With multiple missing teeth, the skin around your mouth can sag. And missing teeth can affect your speech.
Dental implants restore appearance and functionality
Dental implants can replace missing teeth and are designed to look like your other teeth. They can replace any number of teeth, from just one to all of your upper and lower teeth.
Dental implants aren’t new. “On a personal level I’ve been doing them for more than three decades. They have an established history of success,” says Louis Rafetto, DMD, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon and spokesperson for the American Dental Association.
These implants consist of an anchor — the support structure that attaches to the jaw, usually made of titanium — and a crown, which caps the anchor and provides the appearance and functionality of a real tooth. “All things being equal, implants are your best restoration option. They replace everything that’s missing,” says Rafetto.
Getting dental implants is typically a multistep process, not a one-time event, Rafetto says. That’s because once the anchor is inserted, the bone needs time to solidly attach to it.
“While it’s possible in certain circumstances to place an implant and connect the tooth immediately, usually that tooth is temporary. The more conventional approach is to put the implant in, let it heal, and then connect the tooth,” Rafetto says.
It’s preferable to place a dental implant soon after the tooth is lost. If time has passed and you’ve lost bone, you may first need a bone graft to rebuild bone and give the dental implant a place to attach. If you have multiple missing teeth, you don’t need to anchor each one. You could attach all of your upper or lower teeth to four or five implants.
Cost is a factor
According to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry, replacing a tooth with a dental implant can cost $3,000 to $4,500.
If your dentist recommends dental implants, check to see if your insurance covers them and how much they will pay. “Not all plans cover them, and some only cover them in special circumstances,” Rafetto says.
Are dental implants my only option?
Dental implants have a high success rate — 98% when placed properly, according to the ACP. But if you don’t think they’re the best option for you, you have other choices.
For one or two missing teeth, you might want to consider a bridge, which fills the gap with a replacement tooth that connects to the teeth in front of it and in back of it. But with a bridge, your dentist needs to put crowns on those two connecting teeth. Bridges aren’t as stable as implants and don’t prevent bone loss in the jaw.
Partial dentures, sometimes called flippers, can replace some missing teeth. “One of the complaints is they don’t stay in well,” Rafetto says.
If you’re missing all of your teeth, full dentures are an option. And depending on the health of your bone, you might also be able to place two implants in your jaw and attach dentures to them. “That gives you better stability and retention,” Rafetto says.