What Is A Dental Implant?

Dental implants are artificial tooth roots that serve as the base for a replacement tooth or bridge. A metal post or frame is surgically inserted into the jawbone below the gum line. The implant fuses with the surrounding bone over a few months, making it close to a true tooth root. An abutment – a connector that holds the tooth or set of teeth – is placed on the implant, and then the prosthetic tooth is placed. Prosthetic teeth are made of natural-looking, durable materials such as porcelain. Implants can cost more than dentures or bridges, but when properly cared for, implants last a full lifetime and have greater benefits to adjacent teeth and bone.

Implants are a popular option for people with missing teeth or chronic dental problems who are seeking a permanent solution. A dentist can determine if you are a good candidate for a dental implant. Candidates must have adequately healthy gums and jawbone for the implant to stay in place. Surgery can be performed by a dentist, periodontist, or oral surgeon. After the implant has fused properly with the bone, a dentist or specialist can place the crown (prosthetic tooth). The process generally takes several months.

Implant Benefits

Dental implants are popular due to their numerous health and aesthetic benefits. Many people also experience increased self-esteem as they regain their smile. The implants feel natural because they do not shift in the mouth like dentures can. This can make it easier to talk, laugh, eat, and even cough. They also provide added convenience. Because implants are permanent, they do not require adhesives or overnight removal and soaking. Implants require the same care regimen as natural teeth: brushing, flossing, mouthwash, and regular dental appointments.

With proper oral hygiene, implants can last a lifetime, compared with the 5-10 year lifespan of dentures and bridges. Implants do not require adjacent teeth to be ground down or put extra pressure onto other teeth. This helps preserve the overall health of those teeth. Implants also prevent bone loss in the jawbone. When teeth are missing, the jawbone naturally starts to erode. This can lead to the loss of additional teeth and a change in facial appearance. Implants fuse with the jaw, preventing bone erosion and preserving facial structure.

Implant Placement

What can you expect when receiving a dental implant? Prior to surgery, your dentist may perform a number of tests and procedures in order to develop a treatment plan. This could include diagnostic imaging, which can reveal bone density and quality, as well as any potential issues. Damaged teeth, if any, are removed. If there is extensive bone loss, a bone augmentation may be performed. The dentist will then weigh many factors to choose an appropriate implant type.

The dental implant surgery is usually an outpatient procedure that is performed in stages. First, the implant, a metal post, is inserted. The gum is cut open, a hole is drilled deep into the bone, and the post is implanted. Afterward, over a period of months, the jawbone begins growing into and integrating with the implant. Once that process is complete, another outpatient surgery is performed to attach the abutment, which is where the artificial tooth will eventually attach. The gums are reopened to attach the abutment to the implant. After the gums have healed for one to two weeks, the artificial tooth can be attached.

The length of the total process can vary greatly, depending on a number of factors. In some cases, the implant and abutment are placed during the same procedure, decreasing the number of surgeries needed. In other cases, pre-surgery bone augmentation can add months to the process.

Single Tooth Implant

Single tooth implants are used in people missing one or several teeth. A dental implant is a titanium post that is drilled into the jawbone below the gum line. It acts in place of a tooth root and a replacement tooth, called a crown, can be mounted onto it. The implantation process begins with an initial consultation to assess dental history, take X-rays, create molds, and determine if enough jawbone is present to hold the implant in place. In cases where there is adequate jawbone and healthy gums, the process can take as little as five to six months. During the first surgery, the dentist or oral surgeon will place the implant. They will then wait four to seven months for the bone and implants to fuse. A second, simpler surgery is then scheduled. A new incision to the implant is cut and a healing cap is placed on top in order to guide the healing of the gums. After 10-14 days, the healing cap is removed and an abutment and temporary crown (replacement tooth) are placed on the implant. The temporary crown is made of softer material than a permanent crown, and it helps cushion the implant while the jawbone and gums are healing. After 4-6 weeks, a custom-made permanent crown will be placed. The permanent crown can be cemented or screwed to the abutment.

Multiple Tooth Implants

Dental implants are a good option for patients missing multiple adjacent teeth. The installation process is similar to the process for a single tooth. After the initial consultations, the dental implants are installed, usually in a single session. After the implants integrate with the jawbone, another surgery is scheduled, when the dentist or oral surgeon will attach a permanent bridge to the implants. The bridge can be as small as a three-crown bridge supported by two implants, or a larger bridge that is supported by multiple implants. The total number of visits and surgeries will vary, based upon the health of the bones and gums, as well as how many implants and bridges are being placed.

Like single-tooth implants, multiple tooth implants provide many benefits. They are permanent, can be cleaned like other teeth, do not damage the adjacent teeth, and prevent bone loss that could occur due to tooth loss. Alternative solutions, such as partial dentures, can be loose and uncomfortable, and require replacement every few years.

Full Arch Implants

Full arch or full mouth implants are a great option for those who have lost all their teeth. This option provides for the replacement of all upper or lower teeth (arch), or both. The process begins with an initial planning consultation. Then during a surgical procedure, dental implants are placed. Often, a temporary bridge is placed at this time as well, so that the patient has the convenience of having teeth while the implants fuse with the jawbone. A few months later, replacement teeth or a custom fixed bridge is installed, and the process is complete.

Full arch implants can be an expensive procedure, but modern advances in dentistry are decreasing the costs considerably. In some implant systems, as few as four implants can support a full arch of replacement teeth. This is much more cost effective than replacing each tooth individually. Further, the procedure can often be completed in a single day, further reducing costs.

The benefits of full arch implants make them well worth the investment. Arch implants protect against bone loss and prevent a sunken look around the cheeks and mouth. They function and look like natural teeth, and require the same oral hygiene habits. They do not have to be removed like dentures, and can give patients their confidence back.