A single-tooth implant is as close as you can get to replacing a real tooth. A titanium screw bonds to the bone in the jaw, acting like a sort of root to the tooth. The dentist then screws a crown into the implant—the bone actually grows onto the implant. Dental implants are strong, and they enhance a patient’s ability to chew and eat properly.
The beauty of single-tooth implants is that they’re not reliant on other teeth. In the past, if there was a small gap, a dental bridge might be constructed. But bridges rely on the teeth on either side of that space. If something happens to either one of those teeth, your bridge is lost.
In small spaces, single-tooth implants are perfect because they don’t involve the adjacent teeth . The implant sits on its own and doesn’t damage any healthy teeth surrounding it. In a larger space where, typically, the only other option would be either partial or full dentures, implants are also very useful.
Dentures are not comfortable. You haven’t got the same functional ability with them. You’ve got to take them out every night and stick them in a glass of water, which is not very nice. If you’ve got an implant-retained full upper denture, on the other hand, it’s like having teeth.
It’s important to weigh up the costs in terms of the lifespan of the treatment. If we were doing a dental crown or a bridge, statistically, you’d be looking at a 90% survival rate of 10 years. For an implant done in the right case, you’re looking at 95-to-96% over 30 years, or thereabouts.
People who have a missing tooth at the back of their mouth often think, “Oh, it can’t be seen, I won’t worry about it”. This isn’t wise. The problem with having a space on one side of the mouth is that typically people will chew exclusively on the other side. This means you’re putting 100% of the load on 50% of the teeth—you’re overloading those teeth.
If one of those teeth is lost, you’re forced to start chewing with your front teeth. But front teeth are biting teeth, while back teeth are chewing teeth, and that’s why they’re all shaped the way they are.
If you start chewing with your front teeth, you make back teeth out of front teeth. By that, I mean they just wear down. It’s a big issue and it’s one that can be solved with implants.
Single-tooth implants are the way to go
Anecdotally among my patients, those who wear dentures for back teeth—partial dentures—don’t chew on the denture teeth. They chew on their natural teeth so they’ve got the same problem they would have if there was no tooth there. And typically, if it’s only on the back teeth, the denture spends most of its life in the bottom drawer in the bathroom.
If you can afford it and you want to have something that’s going to mimic what your mouth is like, implants are absolutely the way to go.