Dental implants can lay foundation for healthier life

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Tooth loss is a common condition among senior citizens today.

While the reasons behind the loss of teeth are as varied as the individuals themselves, studies show an alarming 70 percent of all seniors needing tooth replacement in either one or both jaws.

Consequently, seniors are more likely to be wearing full or partial dentures, with the common complaint that eating, speaking, smiling and kissing are now a chore.

What's more, dentures and partials that are ill-fitting often lead seniors to a point of frustration where they refuse to wear the appliance at all thus, diminishing the options of food they can properly chew, ingest and digest. Food choices that fulfill the body's essential nutrient needs, while remaining appetizing well after being made into particles small enough to pass through a straw, are difficult to find much less enjoy as a meal.

It is no surprise that malnutrition in seniors parallels tooth loss. Proper nutrition is of paramount importance for seniors and is an unequaled factor in improving the quality of life. However, not all dentures are ill-fitting ... at least not at first.

The ridge of bone where the appliance rests wears down over time, and dentures that were once secure become mobile, painful, unpredictable and undependable. Fortunately, there is an answer to this problem that has many seniors rethinking their options when faced with replacing missing teeth.

Dental implants, a tooth replacement option with nearly three decades supporting its efficacy, are the breakthrough in modern dental technology many have been waiting for. Simply stated, dental implants are titanium rods, the same material joint replacements are made from, that are placed into the jawbone to serve the same purpose as the roots of the teeth.

After the implants are placed, three to six months must pass before the body's bone cells can incorporate themselves into the titanium and thus support a chewing surface.

Once connected to the bone, crowns, permanent bridgework or even dentures can be attached to the implant. Seniors who have worn full dentures for years may find that just a few implants hold their dentures solidly in place, while others may prefer multiple, individual implants with porcelain crowns to replace a few or multiple teeth.

Although these newly implanted teeth are beautiful, important to note as this improves the psychological well being of many, the main purpose of dental implants is not aesthetics -- it goes much deeper.

It can not be debated that ill-fitting dentures and partially toothless mouths cannot chew food sufficiently enough to incorporate it with the digestive components of saliva.

Therefore, the vitamins and microelements the body needs to absorb through the intestinal walls are diminished. Slowly and unconsciously but as a result of the tediousness and pain associated with eating, ones diet begins to change to soft, processed foods that are higher in calories, lower in fiber and lower in nutritional value.

This results in both weight gain and malnutrition. That's right, we can be fat and malnourished at the same time; where's the justice in that?

Here's the good news. Dental implants eliminate the pain and discomfort of ill-fitting removable full or partial dentures that leads to less desirable changes in diet. Therefore, you can eat a wide variety of nutritious foods without pain.

There are many benefits to having dental implants replace missing teeth or secure an existing denture including improved appearance, speech, comfort and most importantly, better nutrition.

Also, implants do not decay like natural teeth and prevent bone loss and periodontal diseases of the jaw.

What's more, dental implants preserve the natural structural proportions of the face, which can make you look younger. Instead of continuing to treat an existing dental problem, such as a root-canaled tooth that continues to become infected, or replacing an old, loose partial denture without knowing how long the investment will last, you may want to consider implants as an alternative.

Although implants may initially be more expensive than other treatment methods, it often turns out to be the best investment long term as implants are more predictable and economical. Where tooth replacement is concerned, an improvement in the quality of one's life through better nutrition could have no better partner than a fixed set of teeth that function as naturally as your own teeth would.

Dr. Jonathan Gantz, is a doctor of dentistry at Basic Dental Care of Walla Walla. For more information, go to www.basicdentalcare.net.

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