Dr. Todd Miller, DDS
Dr. Steven Bounds, DDS, MS
Dr. Matt Sommerville, DDS, MS
A dental implant is a substitute tooth root that serves virtually the same function as a natural tooth root. It preserves bone and provides a stable foundation for a replacement tooth that looks feels and functions like a natural tooth. Dental implants are made of titanium, which is a biocompatible material used in orthopedic implants.
Dental implant treatment has a better long-term prognosis than other methods of tooth replacement, such as bridges, partials and dentures, which may need to be replaced several times. Since dental implants prevent the bone resorption (deterioration) that occurs when teeth are lost or removed, the natural appearance of the smile is preserved.
Unlike bridges and partials, dental implant treatment does not compromise the long-term health of the adjacent teeth. There is no need to cut teeth down to place a bridge, and there are no hooks, such as those on removable partial dentures that cause teeth to become loose. In addition, dentures and partials accelerate the bone resorption process, which also causes the appearance of premature aging.
Your new replacement teeth will look, feel and function like natural teeth. And since dental implant treatment is the only tooth replacement option that prevents bone resorption, which can cause your smile to look unnatural, the long-term esthetics are usually much better than with any other treatment option.
Nearly everyone who is missing one or more teeth and in general good health is a candidate for dental implant treatment. There are a few medical conditions that can undermine the success of implant treatment, such as uncontrolled diabetes. However, there are very few conditions that would keep someone from having implant treatment altogether.
Quality and quantity of available bone for implant placement is more often a factor in qualifying for dental implants than medical conditions. However, even people who have lost a significant amount of bone can qualify for dental implant treatment with additional procedures to add bone or create new bone.
Documented clinical research demonstrates that dental implant treatment has a long-term success rate of over 95%, which is much better than the success rates for tooth-supported bridges, partial and full dentures.
Dental implants are designed to be permanent; however many factors contribute to the long-term success of implant treatment, such as home care and regular maintenance visits to the dentist or dental specialist.
By comparison, research demonstrates that the typical tooth supported bridge lasts from 7-10 years and that partials and dentures are functional for approximately 5 years.
Dental implant treatment is one of the most successful procedures in the medical-dental field, with documented success rates over 95%. Although successful treatment is very predictable, there are rare occasions where the bone does not completely bond to the implants. When this occurs, new implants are placed, and the success rates for the replacement implants are even higher.
The length of treatment time depends largely upon whether someone is a candidate for Immediate Function procedures. Patients who qualify for this type of treatment receive their replacement teeth the same day implants are placed, although there is a significant amount of treatment planning that takes place prior to implant placement.
For the majority of patients, treatment can take anywhere from several weeks to several months, depending upon the quality of the bone in which the implants are placed. If procedures are needed to augment the bone, the total treatment time is usually somewhere between six to nine months.
Most patients report that the discomfort is far less than they expected, and is much like having a tooth extracted. And although everyone is different with regard to pain tolerance, most patients are very comfortable simply taking Tylenol afterward.
The home care recommended varies depending upon the type of implant supported replacement teeth. For example, a single implant supported crown is cleaned like a natural tooth, with regular brushing and flossing. Implant supported bridges that replace a few teeth are cleaned like tooth supported bridges, brushing and flossing with a floss threader.
Home care is a little more complicated for people who are missing all of their teeth, in that special brushes and floss are often recommended. With overdentures, it is necessary to clean the implant attachments, as well as the overdenture. Permanently fixed implant supported replacement teeth are cleaned like all other bridges.
In all cases, it is recommended that patients see their dentist and hygienist at least twice each year. It is usually recommended that the patient see the surgical specialist at least once each year as well. These visits, combined with proper home care, are essential to the long-term success of implant treatment.
An investment in dental implant treatment is an investment in overall health, appearance and well being, since it involves preserving the integrity of facial structures, as well as replacing missing teeth.
The actual cost of implant treatment is based on a number of factors, such as the number of missing teeth being replaced, the type of implant supported teeth (treatment option) recommended and whether additional procedures are necessary to achieve the proper esthetic and functional result.
There is often a misconception that there is a set cost for each implant. The fees are calculated based on the amount of time your dentist and surgical specialist anticipate spending to complete treatment (implant placement, other surgical procedures, fabrication of replacement teeth, etc) as well as the estimated cost of implants, other components and materials necessary to complete treatment and dental laboratory fees.
The fee is usually comparable to other methods of tooth replacement; however, long-term, implant treatment is generally more cost effective than other options, such as bridges, partials and dentures, which need to be replaced every 5-10 years.
Insurance coverage of implant treatment depends on the individual policy. However, it is rare to receive any substantial coverage. Since the benefit coverage is determined strictly by the amount the employer wants to spend on the policy, there are major limitations on most dental insurance plans. In reality, the plans are only designed to cover routine maintenance, emergencies and basic care.
The insurance companies use statistical data to determine the most common procedures submitted on claims, and then they set their own "usual and customary fee" schedule for these procedures. They also determine the specific restrictions and limitations for each plan. Because the plans are only intended to cover minimal care, there is an annual maximum benefit of $1,000-$1,500 on most plans.
Although most companies exclude implants as a covered benefit, many of them will pay the same benefit they would cover for the lowest cost alternative treatment option (partials and dentures) and some of the diagnostic records, if a specific request is made for alternative benefits. Even if an individual policy includes implants as a covered benefit, the benefit is still limited to the annual maximum.
There are a few cases where medical insurance is available for people who are missing all of their teeth, and as a result, have medical complications. This type of coverage depends solely on the individual policy. Other than these situations, medical coverage is very rare.
Work related injuries and other types of accidents are the other cases that are sometimes covered by insurance. Medicare does not cover implant treatment. All in all, it is best to assume that there is no medical insurance coverage available.