Can Your Child Get Dental Implants?

Dental implants are a great permanent solution for tooth loss, and they pretty much last a lifetime when properly cared for. But if your child recently lost a tooth, they may have to wait a while. Here's how to know whether or not dental implants are right for your child and some alternatives that will preserve that smile until the time for dental implants has arrived.

How Dental Implants Work

Think of dental implants as not only a tooth replacement but also a root replacement and jawbone preservative. It's essentially a crown attached to a titanium post, and this post is surgically implanted in the jaw bone, ultimately mimicking the root.

Titanium is a great material to use because it "tricks" your jaw into thinking it's a real root and over time fuses to the bone through a process called osseo-integration. This is significant because if the lost tooth doesn't get replaced, the jaw has to compensate for this gap in order to protect the surrounding teeth. And it does so by allowing the bone in the vacant area to deteriorate.

What Happens When Children Get Implants

The teeth attach to the jawbone via a dense network of collagen fibers called the periodontal ligament. This ligament allows slight movement of the teeth when you bite and chew. It offers protection when your child suffers accidental impact to the teeth from falling off a bike or rough housing on the monkey bars at school. The periodontal ligament also allows for the teeth to move and shift as your child grows and their face changes shape. But as you recall, an implant is fixed to the jawbone through osseo-integration, which basically cements the tooth in place and doesn't allow for movement of that tooth.

So what does this mean for a child or teen?

As you're aware, kids are growing machines, with many of them continuing to grow in height until they are 15-16 for girls, and 18-20 for boys. However, the focus here is on the mouth, and the jaw can continue to grow and change until the late teens.

Well, as the jaw grows, the natural teeth shift but the implant does not. As a result, the jaw can actually grow around the implant, causing the surrounding teeth to appear longer than the implant itself and resulting in an unnatural look.

How to Know if Your Child is a Candidate

Generally speaking, children are advised to wait a while before getting dental implants. Some dentists say that girls can have implants by the time they are 15 years of age, and boys 17, but it will depend on the individual and whether or not they are still growing.

Your child's dentist will be able to tell if they are ready by performing an exam and taking special x-rays. They may additionally ask questions about recent growth to more fully determine if your teen is a candidate for dental implants.

Alternatives to Implants for Kids

Since you and your child both want to see that healthy, beautiful smile maintained until they are old enough for implants, a prosthetic can prevent the surrounding teeth from shifting. There are currently several ways to achieve this.

  1. Removable Partial Denture. This is nothing more than a tooth attached to an acrylic base, colored pink to match the roof of the mouth. They are commonly called "flippers" and are virtually undetectable by others. Eating and talking can be done with ease with a partial denture in place, but biting into hard foods should be done with caution. If your child happens to wear an orthodontic appliance, it can usually be fitted inside.
  2. Bonded Bridge. This is also a false tooth, but instead of being fixed to a pink, acrylic base that slides into the mouth, it is actually bonded to the adjacent teeth by resin or metal wings. This is a better option for children than a traditional bridge because it doesn't call for permanently removing the enamel to cap the surrounding teeth.

Talk to a dentist like Joe Rosenberg, DDS for more information on this subject.