We can all likely conjure a mental picture of the typical denture from days past: a rather large, clumsy, obviously fake set of teeth that had moderate staying power at best. Thankfully, as is the case in so many areas of life, technological advancements have come to the rescue and brought us many better ways to replicate teeth. A particularly neat method among these is the implant-supported denture.
What exactly is an implant-supported denture you ask? Just as the name implies, it is a full denture that attaches to dental implants placed in your upper or lower jaw. By attaching to elements embedded in your bone, this denture offers a level of stability unheard of in other types. It is more common to find this type of denture in the lower jaw, where traditional models have a hard time staying put, but it can be used for both upper and lower.
There are two main types of implant-supported dentures:
Bar-retained: Two to five implants are placed with this method, and a thin metal bar that follows the curve of your jaw is attached. The denture fits over this bar and is securely held by metal attachments.
Ball-retained: This is secured by ball and socket joints - each implant in the jaw ends in a ball attachment that fits into its corresponding socket in the prosthetic. You often see four implants placed for this style of denture.
The process is definitely a time commitment - often it will take around 5 months for the lower jaw and 7 months for the upper, but the procedures from start to finish can take a full year depending on everything that needs to be done.
The first crucial step is determining that you are a good candidate for implants. A specialist can tell you if you have adequate bone levels to support the placement of an implant and if any complementary procedures - such as sinus lifts or bone grafting - are needed before your mouth is ready for implant surgery.
Once you get the green light, you’ll be made a temporary denture for your missing teeth (if you don’t already have one). This in itself can take a number of weeks and involves multiple appointments where impressions are taken and models are tried out. This temporary then serves as a guide for your surgeon in the subsequent implant placement.
The implants usually require two surgeries, though in many cases, the industry is seeing increased success with a one-surgery procedure. Typically, however, the first surgery will place the implants and the second surgery (3-6 months later to allow for healing and osseointegration) will uncover them and prepare them for the supporting materials.
After successful implant placement and preparation, you’ll go through a similar try-in process with your denture as you did initially. Once everything is where is should be, the teeth are permanently cemented into the denture and you are on your way!
While this represents a significant time and financial commitment, it is one of the better options available to replace large numbers of missing teeth. Talk to your dentist about your options and find out if this could be right for you!