Swedish orthopedic surgeon Per-Ingvar Branemark is widely credited with the discovery of root form titanium dental implants. In the 1950’s, he found bone fused to titanium in his animal studies. In 1965, he applied this technology to humans with the first titanium root form implant placement. Until titanium, all forms of implants used were held in by scar tissue and would ultimately fail. Under the right conditions, jaw bone heals directly to the titanium implant. This can be maintained for a lifetime.
Dental implants will not decay or ever need root canals. They are much harder than teeth and break infrequently. They are subject to the indirect effects of periodontal (gum and bone) disease. If they are not taken care of, the bone can dissolve away from around the implant and it will be lost. Nothing is maintenance free. You can buy the best car in the world, but if you don’t change the tires and oil, it will fail. It may not be cheaper, but it is easier to buy a new car, than a new implant or implants. We expect a healthy dental implant to last as long as a healthy tooth.
Smokers have magnified periodontal disease. You can have a little periodontal disease and keep dental implants. You can smoke a little and keep dental implants healthy. However, smoking and periodontal disease are the kiss of death for dental implants; they will ultimately fail.
When teeth disappear, the bone disappears. Healthy teeth and healthy dental implants help preserve the jaw bones. People that wear dentures for decades, frequently reach the point where they no longer have grip to hold them in. Bone can be created with grafting (link) or manipulated to place dental implants to aid retention or grip. This process can be quite difficult if severe bone loss has occurred already.
An implant is only an artificial root. Most people think of the crown, bridge, or denture attachment as the implant. Dental implants are a component system. First, is the implant itself that is within the jaw bone. Next, is a connector from the implant into the mouth, called an abutment? Lastly, is the superstructure on the abutment: a crown, bridge, or denture attachment (picture)?
If conditions are right (good bone and no severe infection), a dental implant can be placed immediately in an extraction socket. If this is a front tooth, in selected cases, a plastic temporary crown can be placed on the implant immediately. Unless implants are splinted together (link), a fixed superstructure is not placed directly. It is usually 3-6 months before the final restoration is in place on a dental implant. This time element is the only disadvantage; but it is much faster, easier, and more predictable than even ten years ago.