Dental implants are a major advancement in dental technology. As a dental specialist (prosthodontist), I have seen amazing improvements in dental implants occur over the past 30 years. In this 4-part series of articles, I will discuss what dental implants are, their history, how they have evolved, and what the future holds for dental implants.
What are dental implants?
A dental implant is a small man-made screw or cylinder that serves as a replacement for the root portion of a missing natural tooth. Today, most dental implants are made of titanium which is well tolerated by the human body. Gently placed into the upper or lower jawbone, a dental implant will bond securely to the bone. A crown, bridge or denture is attached to the implant, restoring the part that is visible above the gum line. Dental implants are used to support the replacement of a single tooth, multiple teeth or a full row of upper or lower teeth.
Components of a dental implant
A dental implant functions as an artificial substitute for a natural tooth root. The implant is hidden below the gum line and supports the coronal portion of the tooth that is visible. A complete dental implant has three components:
- Implant —
- A small screw-like metal post implanted into the jawbone
- Abutment —
- A small metal extension that is placed on top of the implant
- Crown —
- A prosthetic tooth that is secured to the abutment
A solution for the replacement of missing teeth
Dental implants offer a proven, long-lasting and attractive solution for replacing missing teeth. Millions of people have regained healthy, beautiful smiles with dental implants. Because a dental implant mimics the structure of a natural tooth root, it provides a secure and comfortable anchor. Prosthetic teeth (crowns, bridges and dentures) stay firmly in place. Most patients say their dental implants are virtually indistinguishable from natural teeth.
An ideal alternative to removable dentures and bridges
The stability, durability and longevity of dental implants make them an ideal alternative to removable dentures and bridges. With dental implants, you can eat any type of food without worrying about your teeth coming out. No messy adhesives, no denture slippage or worrying about your smile. With implants, you won’t need to remove your false teeth to clean them. Dental implants can change your life!
Dental implants can replace one or more teeth
Depending on whether a single tooth, multiple teeth or a complete row of upper or lower teeth are missing, one or more dental implants may be required.
- Replace a Single Tooth: An individual implant placed in the jawbone secures a custom-made replacement tooth. Even one missing tooth can ruin your smile and jeopardize oral health. A dental implant restores an attractive appearance and renews healthy, comfortable function.
- Replace Multiple Teeth: Dental implants can replace multiple missing teeth, no matter where they occur in the mouth. A single dental implant can be used to replace each missing tooth. But an implant-supported partial denture or bridge is more often used to replace multiple missing teeth. Secured in place by only a few dental implants, a partial denture or bridge eliminates gaps spread throughout a smile. Unlike a traditional fixed bridge, implant-supported bridges don’t require any alteration of healthy tooth structure to stay in place.
- Replace a Complete Row of Upper or Lower Teeth: A full denture secured to four or more dental implants can replace an entire row of upper or lower teeth. Implant-supported dentures provide extraordinary stability and convenience. You won’t need to use adhesives to hold them in place, and you’ll never again worry about slippage. Plus, you won’t have to remove your dentures to clean them.
Can any dentist place dental implants?
As dental implants continue to gain popularity, the number of dentists performing implant procedures is increasing. The American Dental Association (ADA) does not yet recognize implantology as a dental specialty. Therefore, any dentist with a degree and a license to practice dentistry is allowed to perform dental implant procedures. This can be unfortunate for patients, because dental implants are one of the most complex and demanding treatment procedures performed in dentistry. Both the placement and restoration of dental implants require extensive knowledge that can only be obtained by special training and experience.
Prosthodontists are uniquely qualified
Prosthodontists are uniquely qualified to perform dental implant procedures. In fact, prosthodontic training focuses heavily on dental implants. A prosthodontist is a specialist with a high level of skill in the restoration and replacement of teeth. Prosthodontists are frequently included as part of interdisciplinary teams involved in the surgical placement of dental implants. Their ability to carefully plan and successfully place dental implants is a major clinical asset. An experienced prosthodontist can calculate the best position for dental implants, loading forces, the biomechanics of the jaw, occlusal harmony and esthetic factors that affect the outcome of dental implant procedures.
The next article in this 4-part series will discuss the history of dental implants.