Natural teeth are attached to the jawbone by a root; a dental implant is basically an artificial root for a prosthetic tooth. Dental implants are made of titanium, a bioactive metal that is readily accepted by the human body. The bone in your jaw will gradually become attached to the implant, which creates a strong, permanent bond. An implant may be shaped like a screw, cylinder, or other metal framework, with one or more artificial teeth attached.
The purpose of a dental implant is to replace missing teeth. Although you might think of it purely from a cosmetic standpoint, dental implants also protect your oral health. When you are missing a tooth, it can affect the alignment of other teeth; sometimes your teeth shift into the open space, causing problems with your bite. A missing tooth can also affect wear on your other teeth, be more sensitive when you are eating, and increase the risk of gum disease.
You should be in good overall health to have a dental implant. If you have a medical condition like diabetes or heart disease, you may need to see your family doctor before the implant procedure to make sure you aren't at risk of infection or other complications. Good dental health is also important; gum disease, for example, increases the risk of infection. You must also have healthy, strong bone in the jaw to ensure the implant will be secure.
The first step is to numb the jaw; some dentists also use nitrous oxide (laughing gas). If you need additional work (like a bone graft in the jaw), outpatient surgery with a general anesthetic is more likely. The dentist places the implant by screwing or tapping it into place. You'll need to wear a temporary appliance to cover the new implant for about six months, which allows complete healing. Once healing is complete, your dentist will attach a prosthetic tooth or teeth to the implant.
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