Dental implant surgeries have a very high success rate, but several factors influence how well they will work and how long they will last. Having enough bone density where the implant is being inserted, as well as having the health needed for the bones to heal and "accept" the titanium, is one of the most important factors. Sometimes bone grafts are required before a person can be considered a good candidate for the procedure and, in rare cases when implants fail, maxillofacial surgeons will graft in bone to strengthen the area before trying again.
If bone density is a problem or bones are too soft, surgeons can remove a piece of bone from another site, such the hip, and transplant it to the jawbone where it can fuse with the existing bone for about six to nine months. For minor bone issues, some grafts are completed when the implant is placed, and the fusion between the bones and the implant happens during the same osseointegration period [source: Mayo Clinic]. Synthetic materials instead of bone are also options for building up bone mass in some cases.
While all of these steps may seem complicated, costly and time-consuming, they also can lead to a permanent solution for lost teeth. Implants look and feel natural, and with conscientious care after they're implanted, they really can last a lifetime with little maintenance. Smoking and poor oral hygiene are two factors shown to lessen the success and longevity of implants, but few other issues are documented in medical and dental studies.
Implant dentistry is a solid alternative to traditional partial bridges and dentures, but, over time, its growing popularity may lead to improved insurance coverage and a lower cost -- perhaps in time to meet the dental needs of an aging population.
More on keeping and fixing a smile, next.