Q&A With Dr Emma
Hi Dr Emma, My regular dentist is becoming unaffordable. I am 63 and am now requiring quite a bit of work on my back teeth. I was wondering if it would be better to have them out and replaced with false teeth that are held in place with an implant (I hear it advertised on the radio)? I fear that if I have the fillings replaced the teeth will break away. I don't smile anymore because of my teeth. Thank you, Coral from Kensington (WA)
I'm sorry to hear your teeth are stopping you from smiling :( I can't comment on what's best in your particular situation, as I haven't examined you myself and don't know exactly what your dentist has recommended. I'm also not sure what you've heard advertised in relation to implants. It could be single tooth implants, to replace just a few teeth, or a complete denture supported by a few implants, which are used when there are no teeth left in an arch.
In general, I usually advise my patients that they're better off with their own teeth in their mouth. A tooth needs to require really extensive work before replacement with an implant is a better option. We're usually talking about needing an old root canal therapy re-done, a post inside the tooth, and then a crown on top. A tooth which needs all that work has already been through a lot, so the risk of treatment failing is significant. Also, that amount of work will add up to several thousand dollars, comparable to the cost of a single implant, (in the ballpark of $6000).
A tooth which just needs a new filling, or even a crown, is going to cost far less to repair than having an implant placed. You're right, in that a repaired tooth can still break or get decay, but implants themselves are not infallible. You can still get gum disease around an implant, and the crowns on top can break and need replacement. There can be complications from the surgery such as post-operative bleeding, pain, infection, or nerve damage.
When done well, there are excellent success rates for implants, but like all things with the human body there are a small number of failures regardless of how good the dentistry is. Once you've had a tooth removed and replaced with an implant, the only options after failure are to try and do another implant, or go for a denture which clips onto your remaining teeth.
Unfortunately, implants aren't a dental panacea. If you are considering having teeth replaced with implants, you need to weigh up the risks and benefits of all your treatment options to decide what's best for you. A good dentist will be happy to sit down with you and give you all the information you need to help you make a decision.