A dental implant is an artificial tooth root that’s inserted into the jawbone to replace a missing natural tooth. Implants with dental crowns attached closely mimic the look, feel, and function of natural teeth, making them the gold standard in tooth restoration treatments.
Dental implants can be used to replace one or more teeth. Once the implant is inserted, an abutment is attached at gum level. This abutment can then be used to anchor various types of dental restorations for replacing however many teeth.
Implants are generally made out of titanium, although there are other materials available. Titanium is chosen for not just its strength and durability, but because it’s biocompatible. Where many metals are rejected by the body, resulting in inflammation and infection, titanium is readily accepted as an implant material.
Benefits of Dental Implants
There are many types of restorative dental treatments, but these typically only replace the crowns of teeth. Dental implants are the only restorative treatment that replace a tooth literally down to the root.
Dental implants prevent bone loss in the jaw once a tooth is removed. As bone continues to move, grow, and shrink over time, the void left by an extracted tooth root will slowly collapse. Not only does this result in loss of bone density, it can also lead to hollow or collapsed cheeks. By keeping that gap filled with an implant, the bone maintains its shape and density for longer.
Where many restorations either sit on the gum or use an artificial gum — such as with dentures — a dental implant is typically surrounded by natural gum tissue.
Replacing a tooth with a dental implant removes the need to cut and reshape otherwise healthy and adjacent teeth, as can be the case in dental bridges.
Implants are much easier to care for, as they generally do not require special care routines like many other restorative treatments. Instead, they’re brushed and flossed as normal.
When combined with dentures, dental implants provide greater stability and increased bite strength. This gives patients with full mouth restorations the stability and functionality they often miss out on with traditional dentures.
Lastly, dental implants are one of the longest-lived restorations available. With proper care and hygiene, a dental implant can easily last many decades.
Not everyone is viable for dental implants. There are a range of issues which might preclude someone from receiving dental implants, such as:
- Pre-existing heart problems
- Lack of sufficient jawbone volume
You will need to talk to your dentist about whether you’re suitable dental implant surgery. While some contraindicators can be dealt with — quitting smoking, bone grafts in certain cases, etc. — others simply cannot. Your dentist will advise you on what’s right for you.
The Dental Implant Procedure
Dental implants are not a quick procedure. There are surgeries, restorations to manufacture, and significant healing times to ensure stability and viability. From initial surgery to connection of the final restoration can be anywhere from 3-6 months.
Whether you’re using dental implants to replace one or multiple teeth, the procedure for the implant itself is always the same.
Detailed scans of the jaw are made and plans drawn up to find the optimum position for implant insertion.
This is particularly important when replacing an entire arch of teeth with an implant-supported denture. With proper planning and positioning of the implants, an entire row of teeth can be supported by as little as four implants.
In some cases, the tooth or teeth being replaced are still present at the start of the process. In other cases, the tooth or teeth have long since been extracted. In cases where the tooth/teeth are present,
Preparation of the Implant Hole
The dentist will prepare the implant site by drilling a hole into the jaw where the implant will go. This is done under local anaesthetic.
Insertion of the Implant
Once the implant site is prepared, the implant itself is inserted. Implants are either threaded or smooth; threaded implants are screwed into place, smooth implants gently tapped. The gum is stitched over the implant site to allow it to heal, with the stitches being removed 7-10 days later.
Before anything else can be done, the bone surrounding the implant needs time to grow around the implant surface. This is a process called “oseointegration” or “biointegration”, and can take up to six months to ensure the stability of the implant.
Insertion of the Abutment
Once the implant is secure, an abutment is connected to the implant. An abutment is a support post that acts as a connection point between the implant and the restoration on top. The abutment might be used to mount a single crown, a bridge of several crowns, or even be used to help anchor a denture.
Post-Operative Care and Caring for Implants
Patients who have received an implant surgery need to arrange for someone to get them home afterwards. They should not drive, operate heavy machinery, or exercise vigorously for at least a few days afterwards unless told otherwise.
Swelling, bruising, and pain are all normal side-effects of any surgical procedure. Your dentist will prescribe painkillers if over-the-counter medication is ineffective at treating the pain. Generally the swelling and discomfort should subside after a week.
You may be prescribed antibiotics, which you must take as directed.
There will be post-operative checks to ensure the site is healing properly and the implant is not causing any problems.
One of the best parts of dental implants is that they can be brushed and flossed as you would your natural teeth. Plaque and tartar buildup will cause damage and infection in and around implant teeth just as they would normal teeth, so maintain rigorous oral hygiene.
With adequate care, dental implants will last many decades, and can even outlast the restoration connected to them.