Dental implants are among the most versatile and well-accepted restorations in dental history. When a natural tooth must be replaced, the implant represents the highest standard of care, and is generally recommended as the first treatment option.
By harnessing the power of modern surgical technology, implants can be used in areas where there is a missing tooth, a defect in the bone, or as an anchor for dentures and partials. Implants are coated with a special material that promotes the growth and integration of the surrounding jawbone. With all of the great news about dental implants and their incredible resemblance to real teeth, why would your periodontist have reservations about recommending them for a young patient? What are the long-term results when dental implants are placed in adolescent bone?
The answer can be found when you explore the behavior of the jawbone as it matures, as well as the behavior of the natural teeth compared to that of the dental implant. Although it is a relatively slow process, jawbone growth continues throughout life, affecting the relationship between implants that are placed at an early age and the neighboring teeth. The jaw changes size and shape as it grows, causing the natural teeth to move slightly, while the implant does not move at all. Over time, these changes can have a noticeable effect on the relationship between the tooth and the implant.
The effects of the long-term growth process can be expected to influence the fit of the dental implant crown, presenting the possibility of future maintenance or the need for a new crown. In patients who are still growing, the implant essentially becomes “stuck” in place whereas a natural tooth would move along with the bone, leading to bite problems and a higher risk for implant failure. (Adult growth, aging, and the single-tooth implant. Oesterle LJ, Cronin RJ Jr.).
To assess the seriousness of the complications that could occur as the result of the growth of the jawbone where there are natural teeth adjacent to dental implants, an enlightening study was conducted. The findings concluded that there was a greater risk for bite problems, spaces between the teeth, and visual or esthetic changes when an implant patient experienced the continued growth of the craniofacial region. (Lifelong craniofacial growth and the implications for osseointegrated implants. Daftary F, Mahallati R, Bahat O, Sullivan RM.)
Additionally, a study was conducted with the aim of evaluating the consequences of the natural and continuous process of tooth eruption during adolescence in teeth that are adjacent to dental implants. Specifically assessing the eruption process of the top, front teeth, researchers found that the natural tooth did continue to erupt, eventually becoming longer than the dental implant tooth. (Long-term vertical changes of the anterior maxillary teeth adjacent to single implants in young and mature adults. A retrospective study. Bernard JP, Schatz JP, Christou P, Belser U, Kiliaridis S.)
For adolescents with missing teeth, perhaps as the result of a traumatic incident or a congenital condition, dental implants can be a viable restorative solution as long as the youth has reached an age of dental and skeletal maturity. Placing implants before the patient has sufficiently matured has been observed to lead to periodontal problems and bone loss in the vicinity of the prosthetic tooth. (Orthodontic aspects of the use of oral implants in adolescents: a 10-year follow-up study. Thilander B, Odman J, Lekholm U.)
There is still much research to be done in order to determine how and when dental implants should be used with adolescent patients. In the meantime, schedule an individual consultation to discuss the minimum age requirement for dental implants with our experienced team of periodontists today.