A Look at the Popular Tooth Implant Option to Replace Missing Teeth
You’ve likely heard of dental implants at some point. But do you ever wonder how dental implants work, or what they are exactly?
Dental implants are an increasingly popular option to replace teeth, support full and partial dentures, and ensure ongoing oral health.
They are popular because they look and feel like natural teeth while lasting just as long. And they help support the jawbone and surrounding teeth.
For a better understanding of what dental implants are exactly, here’s an explanation of dental implants and how they are used, created, and placed.
WHAT ARE DENTAL IMPLANTS?
A dental implant is a titanium metal post that is inserted into the jawbone to act like a tooth root. Dental implants are used to replace missing tooth roots and to support artificial teeth.
Once healed, a replacement tooth, bridge, or denture is mounted on this post. Dental implants are tooth replacement options that support the jaw bone and surrounding teeth and won’t become loose.
Dental implants also help support adjacent natural teeth and the structure of the mouth and jawbone by preventing bone loss.
A dental implant consists of three components:
- The Implant or Base—a titanium screw post that is surgically placed in the jawbone.
- The Abutment or Connector—a part attached to the implant with a screw, often made of titanium, gold, or porcelain. The abutment connects the crown (replacement tooth) or denture to the post and is shaped like a tooth that has been cut down to mount a crown on top.
- The Restoration—a crown that looks like a natural tooth, often made of porcelain, metal, or porcelain fused to a metal alloy. The crown is mounted onto the abutment with cement or a screw (and the screw hole is covered with a tooth-coloured filling).
DO I NEED DENTAL IMPLANTS?
Replacing One (Or More) Teeth
Dental implants are an option for those who are missing one or more teeth. You can opt for dental implants with fixed teeth, which have a permanent crown. Or you can have implants to support removable teeth known as dentures.
Removable implant-supported dentures are like traditional dentures and can also come as full or partial dentures. But these dentures have the extra support of dental implants.
These types of dentures consist of artificial teeth surrounded by pink plastic artificial gum. The artificial teeth and gums are mounted on a metal frame that attaches (snaps into place) onto the implant abutment.
These denture implants are removable for daily cleaning and easy repair.
While the implant-supported fixed and removable teeth have different placement methods for the artificial teeth (permanent crowns vs. removable dentures), the placement of the implant rod and abutment are the same for both.
HOW ARE IMPLANTS PLACED?
Your dentist, periodontist, or oral surgeon will make a small incision in the gum where the implant will be placed. They will then drill a small hole in the jawbone, place the implant in the hole, and stitch the incision shut.
Over several months—usually four to seven months—the jawbone will heal and fuse with the implant.
Once the jawbone has healed and fused with the implant, you will have a second surgery to expose the top of the implant. Your dentist will make a new incision to reveal and place a healing cap on the head of the implant.
The healing cap is a metal collar that guides the gums to heal properly around and away from the head of the implant to make room for the replacement tooth. This healing cap will remain in place for 10 to 14 days until the gum tissue heals.
Once the gums heal, the healing cap is removed and the abutment is screwed into the implant with a temporary crown mounted on top. The temporary crown will remain on the implant for four to six weeks, allowing the gums to heal around the artificial tooth and to help cushion and protect the implant from the pressure of chewing while the jawbone strengthens.
Your dentist will then make a permanent crown that looks like your natural teeth. And when ready for placement, your dentist will cement or screw the permanent crown onto the abutment.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Throughout the months-long process of getting a dental implant, you should expect:
- Removal of any damaged teeth
- Jawbone preparation—bone grafting, if needed, for a jawbone that is too soft or not thick enough to support an implant
- Initial implant placement
- Healing time—for bone growth and fusing to the implant
- Placement of the abutment and temporary crown
- Placement of the permanent crown
Once the process is complete, your dental implant will look and feel like a natural tooth and will last for up to 25 years. You will need to care for your implant as you would the rest of your teeth—i.e., brushing at least twice a day, flossing daily, and visiting your dentist for regular checkups.
You should also avoid smoking, chewing hard items, and grinding your teeth. If you have issues with teeth grinding, seek treatment from your dentist to help preserve your teeth, your dental implant, and your jaw.
To learn more about dental implants, how much dental implants cost, and to see if you are a good candidate for this procedure, speak with your dentist about this popular and permanent dental restoration option.