Many people have heard about dental implants but aren’t sure exactly what they are or what they’re used for. There are several uses for implants but most commonly they are used to replace single or multiple missing teeth. Implants are usually made of titanium, a metal that has been shown to be very acceptable to the body and has been used for many years in hip and knee replacement surgeries, and they look like small, hollow screws. Their purpose is to provide a stable anchor for some type of artificial tooth or denture and can be used in either the upper or lower jaw, with some sites being more favorable than others due to variations in bone density within the mouth. Implants have been in use for replacement of teeth for over twenty five years and are increasingly becoming a standard method of replacing teeth because they are the closest to reproducing “mother nature” of all dental prosthetic techniques.
There are several steps to the process of placing implants that usually take a few months to complete. The first step, after initial consultation and examination appointments, is for the dentist or oral surgeon to place the implant body into the jaw with only the very top of the implant visible slightly above the gum line. This area is allowed to heal for a period of time which will vary depending on the amount and quality of bone in the surgical site. This can be as short as 6 weeks but can sometime take several months to completely integrate the implant to the bone. The second step is the placement of an extension to the implant called the abutment. This extension serves as the foundation for whatever type of restoration is to be placed next. At this point an impression is taken that is sent to the dental lab and used for the fabrication of the final restoration, which could be a single tooth, a bridge to replace several teeth (using more than one implant for support) or a full denture, also on at least two and sometimes more implants.
In the case of full dentures, most of the time the dentures are still removed daily for cleaning but the use of the implants greatly improves the stability and function of the full denture by giving the denture something to “snap” onto which holds it in place. The final step is the placement of the custom made restoration, adjustment for fit and comfort and instructions for proper care.
Dental implants have revolutionized modern dentistry, allowing us to restore missing teeth to better comfort and function than was possible before. Many people who have struggled with missing teeth or poor fitting dentures can now be restored to a higher level of function and confidence than they were previously.