From an appearance standpoint, it might be difficult to tell a new dental implant and crown from a natural tooth. There is, however, one big difference between an implant and crown from a real tooth, one which could impact an implant's longevity: how each attach to the jaw.
A natural tooth is held in place by a tough, but elastic gum tissue called the periodontal ligament. The ligament lies between the tooth and the bone, extending out tiny fibers that attach to both. This holds the teeth firmly in place, while also allowing the tooth to gradually move in response to mouth changes. It also facilitates the delivery of infection-fighting agents to protect the teeth and gums against disease.
By contrast, an implant is imbedded in a prepared channel shaped into the jaw bone. Over time, bone cells grow and adhere to the titanium surface, which serves to fully secure the implant to the jaw. The periodontal ligament doesn't attach to the implant, so it relies solely for stability on its attachment to the bone.
Thus, although highly durable, implants don't share the properties real teeth have because of their connection with the periodontal ligament. They don't move dynamically like real teeth; and more importantly, they lack some of the disease-fighting resources available to natural teeth.
So, what difference would the latter make? Implants aren't composed of organic material, and are therefore unaffected by bacterial infection. The problem, though, is that the gums and bone supporting the implant are susceptible to disease. And, because an implant lacks the defenses of a real tooth that the periodontal ligament provides, an infection within these tissues could quickly undermine their support and cause the implant to fail.
To avoid this and protect the longevity of your implant, it's important that you practice daily oral hygiene. You should brush and floss your implant to clear away disease-causing plaque from the surrounding tissues just as you do natural teeth.
Your dental provider will also include cleaning around your implants during your regular visits, albeit with different tools that are more protective of the implant and crown surfaces. During these visits they'll also closely inspect the tissues around the implant for any signs of infection and initiate prompt treatment if necessary.
If you would like more information on taking care of your implants, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dental Implant Maintenance.”