If you're an older, retirement-age adult who is missing one or several teeth, then you may be considering having those teeth replaced with dental implants. It's true that implants are considered the premier option for tooth replacement since they look and perform like natural teeth once you're healed. However, as an older adult, there are some factors you and your dentist will need to take into consideration when determining whether implants are a safe and effective tooth replacement option for you personally.
Osteoporosis and Bone Loss
Dental implants are inserted into your jaw bone. If your jaw bone is weak or brittle due to osteoporosis, it won't support the implant. It will either not heal properly around the implant, or you may put yourself at risk of a jaw fracture when you bite down with the implant. Jaw bone loss can happen to anyone, but it is most common in elderly adults— and particularly older women. If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis in your hips or other major bones, your dentist will need to take careful x-rays to ensure the condition is not also affecting your jaw bones before approving you for implants.
Certain osteoporosis medications may also make dental implants more risky. Those known as antiresportive agents, which are intended to help strengthen bones, can cause a serious side effect called osteonecrosis of the jaw to occur after dental procedures that affect the bone. If you are taking antiresportive agents, your dentist may recommend against implants, or they may require that you stop taking this medication for a period of time before your implant procedure.
For years, dentists have been hesitant to place implants in the jaws of diabetics. They have feared that diabetics— particularly those whose diabetes is not well controlled—may not heal well from the surgery. Thus, a lot of older adults who wanted dental implants have been turned down because of their diabetes. But there's good news if you're a diabetic. New studies have shown that dental implant surgery is a lot safer for diabetics, and even for those with uncontrolled diabetes, than dentists originally thought. So many dentists now offer implant surgery to diabetics.
If you have diabetes, you may have to visit a few dentists before you find one who has switched their policies and is now willing to operate on you. But rest assured: the evidence shows that you have the same chance of a successful surgery as a non-diabetic.
Gum disease occurs in people of all ages, but it is especially common in older adults. There are a number of reasons for this. Some medications that older people take, including those for hypertension, depression, and asthma, cause dry mouth as a side effect—and dry mouth perpetuates gum disease. As you age, your immune system may also become less effective at fighting the bacteria that cause gum disease.
If you have gum disease, this probably won't mean that you can't get dental implants. However, it will mean that you need to wait to get your implants until you have the gum disease under control, since operating on infected gums will put you at risk of a more serious infection and poor healing.
If you're showing symptoms of gum disease, which include gum soreness, bleeding after brushing, and the formation of pockets in your gums, talk to your dentist about treatment options such as antibiotic gels and saliva-stimulating medications. Once your gum disease is under control, you can move forward with the implant process.
Plenty of older adults successfully receive dental implants. However, you and your dentist need to make sure you're healthy enough to properly heal from the surgery. By keeping issues like diabetes, osteoporosis, and gum disease in mind, you can ensure this really is the best tooth replacement choice for you. Speak with a dentist who specializes in dental implants, like Gordon Dental, for more information.