Losing your teeth impacts more than your appearance. Without teeth, your health and diet can decline, leading to a lower quality of life. If you or a loved one has lost one or more teeth, dental implants can give them a long-lasting, natural alternative to dentures.
What are dental implants?
During the implantation process, posts are placed directly into the jawbone, much like the roots of natural teeth. These posts are usually made of titanium, which is one of the few biocompatible metals that is readily accepted by the jawbone. Titanium implants integrate with living tissue through a process called osseointegration. This allows them to bear weight and endure the constant pressure from chewing and grinding.
Once your jaw has grown around the implant, a false tooth can be screwed onto the post. Tooth restorations are often made of porcelain, so it will blend in with the rest of your teeth. Dental implants are the only tooth replacement option that look, act, and feel like natural teeth.
Dental implants are a simple concept with a complex procedure. Replacing lost teeth is a delicate process, but dentists have made strides in perfecting the art of dental implants. It’s easier than ever to replace your teeth, and you’d be surprised how much impact your teeth have on your diet, health, speech, and mental health.
The importance of teeth
It’s common to see seniors with little or no teeth. While this seems like a normal part of aging, it can be avoided with quality dental care and implants. Many older adults simply resign themselves to the reality of living without teeth, but it can lead to a number of health complications.
Bone and tooth loss
One of the most damaging parts of losing teeth is the resulting bone resorption. Without the stimulation from your teeth, the jawbone around the lost tooth will begin to dissolve. This leads to jaw shrinkage and instability; as your jawbone deteriorates, the surrounding teeth will begin to loosen and fall out.
If further tooth loss isn’t bad enough, dentures will need to be replaced every few years to accommodate for jaw shrinkage. While implants can solve this problem, going too long without an implant can require you to receive bone grafts before implantation can take place. This is why you should replace lost teeth as soon as possible.
Quality of life
There are plenty of commercials that emphasize the importance of teeth on our self-esteem. However, our teeth contribute more than that to our daily lives. Even simple, human activities like speaking and eating can be negatively impacted by tooth loss.
Without teeth, eating becomes a chore. This is not only unpleasant, but depressing and unhealthy. With a large portion of your diet swept off the table, it can be difficult to get proper nutrition.
Speech is also affected; many seniors struggle to speak with dentures in, leading them to forfeit conversation out of frustration. This lack of interaction can lead to social isolation, depression, and even dementia.
How much do dental implants cost?
Implants have a reputation for being expensive, but this shouldn’t stop you from looking into them as a viable option.
Dental implants typically cost $3,000 to $4,500 per tooth. This is a startling number, especially if you haven’t looked into insurance coverage or financing plans. For those on Medicaid, coverage for implants is scarce. Unless your tooth loss was caused by damage during childhood, you might have trouble proving that implants are medically necessary.
Some dental insurance companies cover dental implant surgeries, and those that do not cover implants will sometimes provide allowances to help you finance the procedure. If you have an annual cost cap on your insurance, you can split up your surgeries over the course of a year (or three) to avoid the financial burden.
Once you’ve spoken to your insurance provider, you should bring up the matter with your dentist. They can assess your situation to provide you with more information, and suggest financing plans to help you afford the surgery.
When considering implants, it’s important to consider the following:
- Price. Implants are expensive, but they can be financed using payment plans and insurance.
- Bone density. If the jawbone is heavily deteriorated, bone grafts will be an additional surgery and expense.
- Health. Dental surgery can be painful and draining, especially for older people struggling with other conditions.
- Age. In some cases, a senior might be too old to truly benefit from the longevity of dental implants.
- Complications. Gum disease, autoimmune diseases, smoking, and slow healing can cause implants to fail.
The price of implants can be discouraging, but they are permanent appliances; unlike bridges and dentures, implants will not require replacement later down the line. However, it’s important to consider the age of the patient when debating implants.
While implants are more effective, cheaper options like bridges might serve a similar purpose without the expense and pain. Dental implants are designed to last as long as possible, but the financial burden and physical strain of surgery might be too much for an elderly person to bear. This effort might not be worth the result, as bridges would have lasted for the rest of their lives.
In these cases, other options might be preferable.
Regardless, implants are a versatile dental tool that can greatly improve people’s lives. If extensive tooth loss has taken place, not every tooth has to be replaced with an individual implant. Instead, implants can be used to support other appliances.
Implant-supported dentures are a middle ground between dentures and full implants. In this scenario, dentures are anchored to various implants. This solution encourages some stimulation of the jawbone, but does not require the patient to undergo heavy surgery to replace every single tooth.
Implant-supported bridges are a similar concept, but on a smaller scale. If you have lost multiple teeth on one side, a bridge can be used instead of a denture. Another option is Teeth in a Day, which allows temporary teeth to be applied the same day as the implants. These can be replaced with permanent restorations after the jawbone has healed.
If you’re not sure how to proceed, consultation with a dentist can help you assess the situation and decide on a course of action.
Interested in learning more about senior wellness? My Take On Health has an always-expanding library of information on health, exercise, and dieting. Explore our current archives, and stay tuned for more articles.