Molars are vital for chewing food so that you can easily swallow and digest it. That's why losing one of these teeth can be problematic. A molar implant could replace a missing molar, but is it the right option for you? Here's some insight to help you weigh the pros and cons of molar implants and their alternatives.
Implant Surgery Overview
It's important to understand that implant surgery is different from getting a prosthetic device, such as a removable denture. The procedure to place an implant in a patient's mouth involves several steps and takes months from start to finish. As the Mayo Clinic explains, the dental surgeon cuts open the gum to expose the jaw bone, and then inserts a metal post into the bone. It then takes several months for the bone to integrate with the post, during which time the patient can wear a partial denture to replace the missing tooth. Once the metal post is secure in the jaw, the dentist will fix an abutment onto it, which requires a second minor operation. Approximately two weeks later, the dentist will fix an artificial tooth onto the abutment to complete the implant procedure.
Advantages and Risks of a Molar Implant
Though implant surgery is time-consuming and may be uncomfortable for short periods, this type of tooth replacement can be particularly beneficial for patients who are missing a molar tooth. The Dental Health Foundation states that we have twelve molars in total, three on each side of the upper and lower jaw. The molars nearest the front of the mouth are called the first molars, the second molars sit behind them, and the third molars (also known as wisdom teeth) are the last teeth in the back of the mouth, though they do not always erupt.
When weighing the pros and cons of getting a molar implant, it's important to consider which of the three molars requires replacement. A study published in the Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry discovered that first molars were responsible for 90% of chewing. So, if you're missing a second molar but all your first molars remain, the decision to replace the missing tooth with an implant may have more to do with psychological comfort than functional necessity. If you're missing a first molar and it's impacting your ability to chew effectively, tooth replacement may be a sensible option.
As with any surgical procedure, a molar implant also carries risks. A study featured in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dentistry found that complications of molar implants included cracked veneers, loosening of the metal posts and peri-implantitis, which is the inflammation of the surrounding gum tissue and bone.
Dental implants are only one possible solution for a missing molar. According to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry, alternatives to an implant include a bridge and a removable partial denture. The major difference between these options is that a dental implant is fixed into the jawbone, whereas a bridge or a partial denture sits above the gums, attached to the adjoining teeth.
One advantage of an implant is that it's anchored in the gum, so it looks like a natural tooth. Also, placing an implant in the mouth has no impact on the adjoining teeth. When fitting a bridge, the dentist must grind down the teeth on each side to prepare them for the crowns that support the central artificial tooth. Furthermore, when the missing tooth isn't replaced with a dental implant, the jaw bone is more likely to weaken and lose its structure.
Cost of Your Replacement Tooth
Benefits and risks aside, molar implant cost is an important factor when choosing a replacement. The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons points out that bridges and partial dentures have lower upfront costs than dental implants, but the ongoing costs of these implant alternatives can add up over time.
Don't hesitate to ask your dentist for advice and discuss all the molar replacement options available to you, as the surgery required isn't something to take lightly. The time to move ahead with treatment is when you feel confident you've made the right decision.