It’s hard to overstate how well-suited our natural teeth are for their functions. Teeth are the product of billions of years of testing through trial and error. The teeth we have are the best result out of millions of different variations on teeth. The combination of materials and arrangement is truly amazing.
So it’s also truly amazing that human engineering can design something to rival our natural teeth. But we have. Dental implants are a tooth replacement that is most like our natural teeth in terms of the appearance and function. They are much better than old-fashioned dentures. However, they’re not exactly like natural teeth. There are several key differences, and engineers are considering eliminating these differences with new dental implant designs.
Being More Flexible
Of all the differences between implants and natural teeth, the most is that natural teeth are more flexible.
It may not seem like it, but your teeth themselves are a little flexible. When you bite down, your tooth can squish a little bit. This poses a bit of a challenge because the outer layer of the tooth, the enamel, isn’t really flexible at all. Instead, it cracks. But the enamel is designed in such a way that the cracking can actually strengthen the tooth–for a little while. If you bite down too hard on your teeth or do it too often, and the enamel can start to flake off.
Natural teeth also aren’t connected directly to the bone. Instead, they’re linked by what is called the periodontal ligament. Like other ligaments in the body, this is a strong, flexible membrane that gives your teeth a little bit of wiggle room.
You can actually feel this wiggle room if you pull on your teeth. Healthy teeth should have natural motion of less than half a millimeter. More than that, and you should be concerned about gum disease or other conditions that can damage your gums and bone.
The combined effect of these flexible structures is that your teeth are better protected from excessive bite force or trauma that drives your teeth together. Dental implants don’t have any of that flexibility. They have to withstand bite forces with pure strength, which they usually can. However, your bone may not be able to stand up to the high bite force, which can lead to bone loss around the implant.
However, some people are trying to design dental implants with built-in flexibility, more like natural teeth.
Rooted in Nature
Natural teeth also have a different root shape from dental implants. Dental implants have a single root, the screw-like implant that integrates with the bone. Natural teeth, on the other hand, often have multiple roots. Having two or three roots helps natural teeth to further distribute damaging force to protect them from loss.
The difference in shape also affects the dental implant procedure. Usually, we have to augment the bone around a dental implant to make up for the change in shape and size. The hope is that new dental implants shaped more like natural teeth could reduce the need for bone grafts.
With the Replicate system, an implant is custom-crafted to match the size and shape of your natural teeth. The maker claims that you can then get an implant with no drilling and no bone graft.
The Nerve of Natural Teeth
Another key difference between natural teeth and dental implants is that natural teeth have nerves inside them. On the bad side, these nerves can be sensitive to pain from pressure or temperature changes in the mouth. But on the positive side, these nerves help you sense the forces when you’re biting down, so you can correct your bite to line up right and avoid excessive force.
But dental implants don’t have this. The lack of sensation in the tooth can feel a little weird at first, and it might take a little while to adapt to chewing with less force, especially if you have full mouth replacement implant dentures.
But there are currently no plans to add nerves to dental implants.
Implants Are Still Great
While it’s true that dental implants may not have all the design features of natural teeth, it’s also true that they still have many of the benefits. Dental implants look and function like natural teeth. They also can last a lifetime, with very few failures related to these differences from natural teeth.
If you want to learn more about the benefits of dental implants, please call today for an appointment with implant dentist Dr. Ramin Goshtasbi (Dr. G) at Oasis Dental Arts in Scripps Ranch.