Dentures are removable prosthetics that replace missing or extracted teeth. Once fitted for a denture, it takes time to adjust to the way it feels and functions, as dentures differ greatly from your natural teeth. Aesthetically, modern denture designs look considerably more natural and realistic than older models.
Two types of dentures exist: full and partial. Your dentist will help you select which of these best suits your tooth replacement needs based upon the location of the denture and associated costs.
What are implant-supported dentures?
While regular dentures rest on top of your gums, implant-supported dentures are anchored to dental implants in the jaw bone. This type of denture is most often used in the lower jaw, where removable dentures are less stable, but can be used in the upper jaw as well.
Implant-supported dentures snap onto the tops of dental implants. This provides a secure fit, eliminating looseness or slipping without the need for paste or adhesives. Implant-supported dentures are designed so they can be removed for regular cleaning, or you can opt for fixed implant-supported dentures, which function as permanent teeth.
Basics of Implant-Supported Dentures
There are two structural designs of implant-supported dentures: bar-retained dentures and ball-retained dentures. Both require a minimum of two dental implants; however, more implants may be necessary depending on the number of teeth being replaced. Both types of implant-supported dentures provide a secure fit to achieve a natural, beautiful smile.
Bar-retained dentures place three or more implants into the jaw bone. Metal bars then run along the gum line between each of the implants. The denture rests on the bars, attaching to them with metal clips. This structure secures the denture’s placement without the need for the steel studs used in ball-retained dentures. Many patients have opted for this alternative as it eliminates the rubbing, loosening, and discomfort associated with traditional removable dentures.
Ball-retained dentures, also called stud-attached dentures, use a ball-and-socket mechanism to hold the denture in place. The denture base has several sockets that line up with balls placed on top of implants in the jaw bone. The balls and sockets fit together for an extremely secure fit, allowing for an open upper palate denture, if needed. Ball and socket attachment is even less likely to slip or move, restoring the patient’s ability to eat and speak regularly.
Basics of Dental Implants
Dental implants have the best long-term results for tooth replacement. Titanium implants are surgically placed into the jaw bone, where the implant fuses with existing natural bone in a process called osseointegration. Properly integrated implants do not slip or make embarrassing noises, and are more difficult to distinguish from your natural teeth. Because they mirror tooth and root structure, implants provide stimulation for the jawbone, preventing bone loss, while their titanium composition makes them resistant to decay. These factors contribute to the long-term success of dental implants and subsequent overall oral health.
Dental implant technology has been around for over 20 years. Not only does the technology continue to develop and improve, but it has also stood the test of time! Patients who received implants in the 80’s and 90’s continue to report optimum functionality of their implants. With proper care and hygiene, dental implants are truly a life-long solution for missing teeth.
The Implant Process
The process for placing implants and fitting a patient for implant-supported dentures occurs over many months with several different appointments. In the initial consultation, your doctor will determine which type of implant-supported denture is best for you. The doctor will take x-rays, impressions, and a detailed medical and dental history to inform treatment decisions. If you do not already have a removable denture, your doctor will make a temporary one to serve until the implant-supported denture can be placed.
The first procedure is the surgery placing the implants in the jaw bone. At this point, the implants are below the gum line only and are not visible. Once placed, the implants will begin to fuse and integrate with the jaw bone. This process can take anywhere from 3 to 6 months.
After your doctor has determined that the implants have successfully integrated, a second surgery will expose the tops of the implants above the gum line. Temporary healing caps (or collars) will be placed on the exposed portion of the implant to allow the gum surrounding the protrusion to heal. This healing process is much faster than that of the first surgery and takes roughly two weeks.
In the third appointment, permanent abutments replace the healing caps on top of the implants. These abutments will have the final piece (the crown, bar, or ball) attached to them. At your final appointment, you will be able to try your new denture to ensure comfort and proper fit and function.
Care of Implant-Supported Dentures
Proper maintenance and care are critical to ensuring the success and longevity of your implant-supported denture. You should remove your denture at night for thorough cleaning. While the denture is removed, you will also need to clean all of the attachment structures along your gum line; this will prevent gum disease and decay. By carefully following your dentist’s recommendations, your new smile should remain healthy and beautiful.
Implant-Supported Dentures vs. Traditional Dentures
Traditional dentures do not have an impressive track record when it comes to comfort and convenience. Patients often express displeasure with the discomfort, embarrassment, and unnatural appearance that can accompany traditional dentures. Dentures alone do not function as natural teeth. The lower denture is not secured to the gum and can slip, preventing the patient from enjoying certain foods and causing difficulty speaking. Traditional dentures also lead to bone loss as the jaw bone beneath the denture is not stimulated like it would be by natural teeth. As time passes, the bone and gums that hold a denture in place will deteriorate and the denture will cease to fit properly.
Implant-supported dentures offer solutions to many of the issues and complications of traditional dentures. Implant-supported dentures more closely resemble and act like natural teeth. They stimulate the jaw bone and increase bite strength ten-fold within the first year after application. Patients are thrilled with their re-found ability to chew, speak, and smile normally, without embarrassment or discomfort. Implant technology has elevated denture wearers’ quality of life.
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