Dental implants are essentially “Bionic Tooth Roots”. They serve to replace the root structure of missing teeth. They are surgically placed into the jawbone where the teeth are missing and over time the jawbone grows onto the surface of the implant similar to, but not exactly like, a natural tooth root. They are made of surgical grade titanium just like prosthetic knees, hips, vertebral rods and other skeletal replacement parts. They have connectors that, at some point in the healing process, emerge through the gums and support placement of a crown to complete the restoration of a missing tooth.
There are also connectors that are designed to support bridges, fasten dentures to the gums or anchor orthodontic braces. When a tooth is extracted (pulled), the bone and gums that were attached to the root of that tooth soon begin to atrophy (shrink back or whither away). The amount of bone and gum loss subsequent to tooth extraction depends upon how many adjacent teeth are lost, how long they were lost (i.e. gum disease or difficult extraction) and how long they have been lost. The process is constant and more rapid in some than in others. The more teeth lost the worse and more rapid the process of atrophy. For illustration purposes, if all remaining teeth are extracted, within 1 year, the jawbones lose 25% of their size and density. This continuous process eventually affects one's facial appearance, chewing comfort and efficiency, diet and nutrition, speech, taste, sensation and social confidence. Denture wearers lose the sensory feedback from the missing tooth roots that tell them how hard they are biting and subsequently end up chewing at one fifth to one tenth their original strength. They lose facial muscle tone and bone density over time. Timely placement of dental implants after tooth extraction helps to prevent this process and preserve not only jawbone mass and density, but also a primitive sensory feedback of how hard you are chewing, which can be a very satisfying feeling. At some point in the atrophy process, there would not be enough jawbone to even support a dental implant. Usually though, the inadequate jawbone can be augmented to support a dental implant with bone grafting.
Dental implants, unlike teeth, will never get cavities (decay) nor need a root canal. But they are susceptible to gum disease, very much like natural teeth. They are also susceptible to adverse bite forces because they are more rigid than natural teeth since they are not suspended in the jawbone by a flexible ligament like natural teeth. Therefore they have to be cleaned and maintained on a regular preventive interval. They do require special instrumentation to maintain and their parts are unfortunately proprietary to the manufacturers, which elevates costs. Usually dental implants surgical placement and any bone graft augmentation are performed by an oral surgeon specialist and the fabrication of crowns and bridges or dentures performed by general dentists or Prosthodontist specialists. However, there are a few general dentists skilled at both the surgical and restorative phases of dental implants, like Dr. Dunavant. In either case, it is very important for the sake of both appearance and function, to coordinate the exact orientation of implant placement with the anticipated location of the overlying crown, bridge or denture. Otherwise, oral hygiene could be compromised, adverse bite forces could be introduced or the implant restoration could negatively impact the smile. Today dental implants are considered the "Treatment of Choice" or "Standard of Care" for replacement of missing teeth. Their long term success rate (provided total dental health is maintained) is 90-95%, even higher than today's standard root canal therapy.