Since the late 1960s, dental implants have offered a permanent alternative to full and partial dentures that look and function just like natural teeth. However, can you replace all of your teeth with dental implants, or is this treatment just for a tooth here or there? Let’s take a closer look at your tooth replacement options.
What Are Dental Implants?
Pioneered in 1965 by Dr Per-Ingvar Branemark, dental implants mimic the way natural teeth work as part of the structure of the mouth and jaw. Titanium implants are made up of three parts: a post, an abutment, and a crown.
Post: The titanium posts take the place of the natural tooth roots and integrate with the jaw bone—a process referred to as osseointegration. These fixtures must be placed and the gum allowed to heal before the abutment and crown can be attached.
Abutment: The abutment is also made of metal and is attached to the top of the post. The abutment replaces the center of the tooth and serves as a base for the crown.
Crown: This is the part of the dental implant that looks and works like a natural tooth. Crowns are typically crafted out of porcelain in a color that matches the surrounding teeth.
In contrast to a full or partial denture, a dental implant looks and works like a tooth. You can bite and chew normally and brush the dental prosthesis with a regular toothbrush and toothpaste.
Can I Replace All My Teeth with Dental Implants?
Replacing individual teeth with dental implants has become a common procedure, with 500,000 new implants placed each year in the U.S. alone. However, more and more dental patients are also choosing implants as a solution for replacing all of their teeth.
If you have very few (or no) remaining teeth or your teeth are damaged beyond repair, full-mouth dental implants can provide a permanent solution that allows you to eat all of your favorite foods—very different from the soup and drinkable meals you would expect with a traditional denture.
Full-Mouth Dental Implants
While you can replace all your teeth with dental implants, placing separate posts for each individual tooth would be too much for the jaw bone to support. It would also be incredibly cost-prohibitive for the average patient. Instead, what most cosmetic dentists prefer to do is to place a fixed bridge of artificial teeth that are supported by four to eight posts.
A bridge is a series of artificial teeth or crowns that are joined at the sides with no gaps in between. Just in the same way that a porcelain bridge (of crowns) is bonded to the teeth at either end of the bridge, a fixed bridge in the case of dental implants is secured with fewer posts than there are crowns. This shouldn’t be confused with a snap-in denture, which is an implant-supported denture that connects to the mouth using selected posts. A fixed bridge is more natural-looking and works more like traditional implants.
If you are only missing a few teeth in a row, you could opt for a short dental bridge that’s secured with posts at either end. For example:
A three-crown bridge secured with two posts
A four-crown bridge secured with two posts
A six-crown bridge secured with three posts
However, once you are considering a full arch of implants—either on the top or bottom jaw bone—the number of posts can be reduced to four, although many dentists prefer “all on six” and “all on eight” bridges due to the greater distribution of pressure.
When assessing your eligibility for a fixed dental bridge, your oral surgeon or cosmetic dentist will most likely perform a CT scan and/or X-ray to determine the density of your existing jaw bone. If you’ve experienced some bone loss and the existing jaw bone isn’t dense enough to support a fixed bridge, they may recommend a jaw-bone graft prior to placing implants. Bone grafting is a process whereby bone material (often from a donor or animal) is placed into the jaw to provide extra bone density where needed.
The good news is that, once the full-arch bridge has been placed, your jaw bone and gums will be protected and are much less likely to waste away. That’s why it’s essential to choose an experienced dentist who can assess your mouth and jaw in detail and craft a personalized treatment plan based on your unique dental issues.
Time Required for Full-Mouth Implants
If you need to replace all of your teeth with implants, you can expect the process to take 6 months to a year. Your teeth will need time to heal after the post placement and again after the abutment placement.
If you need a bone graft, you can expect an additional 3 to 4 months for your treatment. Your dentist will provide you with temporary teeth (usually in the form of temporary dentures) in the meantime.
Cost of Full-Mouth Implants
The cost of full-mouth implants can vary between $30,000 and $90,000 depending on your oral health, your specific requirements (for instance, do you need a bone graft or sinus lift?) and the type of implants you receive.
The good news is that fixed bridges tend to cost significantly less than what you would pay for a full set of single-tooth post placements, and they’re also much less invasive. Insurance generally doesn’t cover implants, but flexible financing options are available. Your dentist or oral surgeon will go over the details during your initial consultation.
Maintenance and Care
A fixed bridge is palateless—meaning that nothing covers the roof of the mouth—but it does include an artificial gumline to make your smile look natural and complete. Because you won’t be able to clean under the artificial gum yourself, your dentist will remove the fixed bridge every six months to give it a professional clean.
Apart from the bi-annual cleanings, daily care for your bridge is much the same as the brushing routine you’ve followed all your life. The only difference is that you won’t need to floss as there won’t be any gaps between the teeth in which food particles could get lodged.
Explore the Options for Restoring Your Smile
If you’re asking: “Can I replace all my teeth with dental implants?” it’s possible that you have damaged teeth that could be restored before reaching the point of extraction. In the case of deep cavities, heavy staining, cracks, chips, or an uneven appearance, the following procedures could provide massive benefits for your smile:
And if dental implants are still your best option, a skilled dentist can work with you and help you to achieve the result you’re looking for—all without the need for removable dentures.
To ascertain the best course of action for your teeth, it’s best to consult with an experienced dentist who can perform tests and present you with the most appropriate treatments. In some cases, a fixed dental bridge might end up being the perfect solution for your needs—giving you several more decades to enjoy your favorite foods and a smile that you’ll be proud to display.