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What is a Dental Implant?

Smiling man outdoors

A dental implant is an artificial tooth root that is placed into your jaw to hold a replacement tooth or bridge. Dental implants may be an option for people who have lost a tooth or teeth due to periodontal disease, an injury, or any other reason.

An implant post is surgically placed into the jawbone where it replaces the natural tooth root. In a few months, the dental implant securely bonds to the bone (through a process called “osseointegration”), allowing it to withstand the biting and chewing forces just like a healthy, natural tooth. At this point, the biocompatible titanium screw can be topped with a dental crown, bridge or denture to complete the smile.

Types of Dental Implants

Model of implant supported dental crown

Endosteal (in the bone): This is the most commonly used type of implant. The various types include screws, cylinders, or blades that are surgically placed into the jawbone. Each implant holds one or more prosthetic teeth. This type of implant is generally used as an upgrade for patients with bridges or removable dentures.

Subperiosteal (on the bone): These are placed on top of the jawbone with the posts slightly protruding through the gum to hold the replacement teeth. These types of implants are used for patients who are unable to wear conventional dentures and have thin or weak jawbones.

How Do Implants Work?

Model smile with two dental implants

An implant-restored tooth consists of three parts:

  • The implant , which is made of titanium, is placed in the upper or lower jawbone.
  • The abutment can be made of titanium, gold, or porcelain. It is attached to the implant with a screw. This part connects the implant to the crown. It is shaped like a natural tooth that has been cut down to fit under a crown.
  • The restoration (the part that looks like a tooth) is a crown. It usually is made of all metal, all porcelain, or porcelain fused to metal (PFM). The crown is screwed or cemented onto the abutment.

The Implant Process

Senior man receiving dental exam

The timeframe for completing the implant process depends on many factors. When the traditional method of placing an implant is used, the shortest timeframe is about five months for the lower jaw and six months for the upper jaw. This includes the surgery as well as placing the permanent crown. However, the process can last a year or more, particularly if bone needs to be built up first.

Using another technique, implants and healing caps are placed at the same time. If the dentist is using mini implants, he will place them as well as the crown, bridge or denture at the same visit.

With the traditional method, two procedures are required, with three to six months of healing between them. During the first procedure, a small incision is made in the gum where the implant will be placed. A hole is created in the bone, the implant is placed into it, and the incision is stitched closed.

At the end of the healing period, a second procedure takes place. It involves making a new incision to expose the implant. A collar, called a healing cap, is screwed onto the top of the implant. It helps the surrounding gum tissue to heal. After a few weeks, the healing cap is removed. Then, the abutment is screwed into the implant and used to support the crown.

A one-stage procedure can be used sometimes for implants as well. With this approach, your dentist can place the implants, abutments, and a temporary crown or bridge all in one visit.