If you have lost a tooth you most likely are considering the option of dental implants. The decision inevitably leads you to the question, How long do dental implants last? After all, whats the point of investing in something if it isn’t going to last?
Well here’s the good news, dental implants are one of the most predictable methods for replacing a tooth. And when I say predictable I don’t just mean just how long it will last, but instead how it will affect the adjacent teeth, the bite, the cosmetics, and the overall function of the tooth. They are a great long term investment in most cases. However, with all those benefits, its important to understand there are some caveats to consider depending on your particular situation. This article will discuss everything you need to know to understand how long you can expect dental implants to last.
A Dental Implant is as Strong as it’s Parts
So here’s the thing with dental implants, many patients think of the dental implant as a single piece. They are right to a particular extent, however, a dental implant is actually three parts. The part most people think of is the one that replaces the root of a natural tooth, but that’s just the foundation. A foundation is useless without the house on top. So you have to remember that a dental implant involves three parts. Let’s look at them here:
- Implant – This is a root-like component that is placed in the jaw bone to simulate a root of a tooth. The dental implant is made of titanium or zirconia which are materials that are very biocompatiable. The body actually grows bone along the surface of the implant in a process called osseointegration.
- Abutment – The abutment is a connector usually made out of an alloy such as gold or silver, and this part is a bit universal. It connects to the implant and allows the implant to hold many different forms of teeth. For example, an abutment can hold a single tooth, it can connect to another implant to form a dental bridge, or it can connect to a denture to help increase stability of the denture.
- Restoration– The restoration is what you actually see in the mouth when you think of a dental implant. It is often a porcelain or zirconia crown which simulates the shape of a natural tooth, but it can also be a denture that connects to the implant allowing many teeth to be easily restored at the same time.
As you can see, there are three parts of a dental implant and all three are made of very durable materials. The materials are also highly biocompatiable which allow the dental implant to remain in service without the body recognizing it as a foreign object. In general, the abutment and restoration are more susceptible to wear or damage than the implant body itself. This is because they receive more of the load when chewing.
The brilliant thing about a dental implant being three parts is if there is an issue with one of the parts, that part can be replaced individually. The other components can usually be salvaged. You will also be glad to know that dental implants provide flexibility for other treatment options if the patient’s overall mouth changes over time. The dental implant is a versatile platform that can hold many different types of restorations if needs changes later in life.
How Long Do Dental Implants Last?
So with a question like how long will something last, most people are looking for a number of years. Just tell me doc, how many years will this last me, right? Well what I can tell you is that the dental implant itself could last you for life in many cases, but…and this is a big caveat, it depends on the human body complying. Some patients are better candidates than others. There are things right off the bat that as a dental implant specialist, we know put a patient a odds for potentially less longevity. Here’s some things that I consider to potentially reduce the longevity of a dental implant:
- If a patient has a long standing history
- If a patient is a smoker
- If the patient has uncontrolled diabetes or an autoimmune condition in which their immune system is hyperreactive
- Medications for osteoporosis like bisphosphonates, or for autoimmune conditions like methotraxate.
- If a patient cannot properly maintain hygiene by daily brushing and flossing routines
If a patient falls into one of these categories, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are not a candidate, it just means we need to have the factors controlled as possible. In terms of a dental implant failing, the highest probabilities of failure is from periodontal disease or the body rejecting the implant. The highest chance of failure occurs the first two years after a dental implant procedure, after that the patient has a much higher change of the dental implant lasting for decades. Therefore optimizing any risk factors around the time of the procedure can greatly improve success.
Let’s talk about the abutment of a dental implant. The abutment is the most common part of a dental implant to fail, but thankfully, its one of the easiest to correct. Its often just a matter of a screw loosening that can be re-tightened to secure the abutment back into place.
And lastly, the restoration or the crown, how long does that last? Usually about 10 to 15 years on average. The crown is the part of the implant that is being chewed on. Thus, it is susceptible to wear and fractures over time. Mouth location is also a factor in predicting the life of a dental implant. Implants in the rear of the mouth are used more actively in chewing, which means they will likely wear out more quickly than implants near the front of the mouth. However, if you have a dental implant in the front of the mouth and want to keep it for a long time, nix trying to tear bags of chips with your front teeth, and forget about biting your nails. These actions slowly strain the teeth over time.
Weigh the Pros and Cons of Alternatives to Dental Implants
The big alternatives to dental implants are 1) A dental bridge 2) A partial or full denture 3) Do nothing. When you think of dental implants you should think of it this way: what’s the best investment for you long term? If you are a good healthy candidate for dental implants often times it will be the best investment for you long term. Although dental implants may be slightly more costly upfront, they typically require less maintenance and allow for a better quality of life than the alternatives.
A dental bridge uses the teeth on either side of a space to hold a tooth in the middle. The bridge is a great option if there is limited bone for an implant. However, the disadvantage is if there is ever an issue with the bridge then it affects three teeth instead of only the single implant.
A denture is also another option for restoring missing teeth. The primary benefit of a denture without implants is they are much more cost efficient. The downside is that they reduce quality of life due to less stability than dental implants when chewing, speaking, and laughing.
And I know you’re thinking it, what happens if I just leave the missing tooth and don’t do anything? It’s definitely an alternative. Here’s the downsides, the adjacent teeth tend to wander into the missing space. You’re probably thinking great, I wanted to fill it anyway, but not so fast. When the teeth shift it often disrupts the bite which makes patients much higher risk for things like temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ).
Should I Get Dental Implants?
Dental implants are a stable long term option for patients who are good candidates and who are committed to proper hygiene. Some patients are not a candidate due to their medical history or the volume of bone they have to hold the implant. Speak with your implant dentist about the options to weigh the pros and cons of each option available to you. Review the options and trust your instincts of what you feel you can commit to. In closing I can leave you with this thought, although many things in life are an upfront investment, its usually the investments that end up being the best choice long term. In this case dental implants are financially an investment as well as an investment in time for healing, but if they help you to lead a long life that feels natural and fulfilled that is what you will need to weigh the pros and cons against.