Dental Implants

Dental implants have come a long way in a short time as a tooth replacement method that provides an alternative to dentures and bridges, and advances in technology have made implants affordable to a broader range of people who have lost teeth.

Implants are surgically-inserted rods – usually titanium – that bond to the jaw bone. An abutment is fixed onto the implant, and then a crown is attached to it. Today, many different types of implants are available, including mini and micro versions.

Standard Implants

The most common dental implant is the standard one. Technically known as endosteal implants, these are the same size as a natural tooth and comprise of two pieces with a diameter of 3.25mm to 5mm.

An external screw is used to insert the implant into the socket of a missing tooth. Regular implants can replace all the teeth, a few teeth, or just one tooth.

Mini Implants and Micro Implants

Mini implants – also known as narrow-diameter implants (NDIs) or small diameter implants (SDIs) – consist of a one-piece screw less than 3mm in diameter. They can be used in cases where a patient has lost a substantial amount of jaw bone and a standard implant isn’t feasible.

Even smaller than mini implants are micro-implants are sometimes used when a gap between teeth is very small. Micro implants can also be used to hold temporary bridgework in position.

Implant Overdentures

The advancement of the dental implant includes implant-supported overdentures when a patient has lost all their teeth or all the teeth in one jaw. According to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry, over 35 million people in the US are missing all their upper or lower teeth, or both. Many mid-age people (45 to 65) in the U.S. have lost at least one tooth through injury, decay, or gum disease.

Implant overdentures eliminate the problem of traditional dentures rubbing against the gum line, which can result in bone loss. An implant raises the denture above the gum line, protecting the bone underneath and provides stimulation to the bone to prevent bone loss.

Subperiosteal Implants

If your jaw bone is shallow, subperiosteal implants can be inserted underneath the gum line but on or above the jaw – onto the bone rather than into it – avoiding the need to rebuild the jaw. Small metal posts protrude from the metal frame of the implant to anchor replacement teeth

This type of implant can also be a good choice if you’re missing more than one tooth in the same area of your mouth.

Implants for Bridges

Advances in implants have led to them being used to support dental bridges. Traditional bridges rely on the surrounding teeth, but implants provide complete support for a bridge, making it more stable and secure.

CAD/CAM Implants

A major advancement in the dental implant came with the advent of computer-aided design (CAD) in dentistry, particularly CBCT (cone beam computed tomography) scanning, which has made implant treatment more effective than ever.

Cone-beam scanning – a non-invasive, painless process – allows your dentist to see a precise, detailed 3D image of your mouth, including bone and soft tissue structure, so they can achieve the best placement of implants. Another advantage of 3D dental imaging is that it produces 90 percent less radiation than traditional diagnostic procedures.

Advancing technology in computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) is exploring new avenues to provide patients with customized implants rather than standard implant designs.

Ongoing developments in 3D imaging, computer-aided design, and computer-aided manufacturing have led to predictions that custom-made implants could be the future of implant dentistry. However, U.S. government health experts say more clinical trials are needed to assess the effectiveness of this approach.

Titanium or Zirconia?

The advancement of the dental implant has included the recent introduction of zirconia implants with a ceramic cap as an alternative to titanium implants. Zirconia implants got the green light from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011.

Zirconia and titanium are both biocompatible – they’re non-toxic and interact favorably with the body. Both materials also integrate well with the bone (osseointegration) and gums.

With most zirconia implants, the tooth root replacement and the abutment are contained in a single unit. Some dental industry observers say that because a one-piece implant has no prosthetic connections, it avoids the possibility of bacterial growth.

However, others argue that these single-piece implants require dental adhesive, which can harbor bacteria, and maintain that two-piece titanium implants give the dentist more control over implant placement.

Implant Advances are Continuing

Implants represent an important milestone in dentistry and have been widely used to improve the lives of people of all ages.

The advancement of the dental implant means it has a high success rate – 95 percent or more over 30 years – which has made this tooth replacement method an increasingly popular alternative to dentures and bridges. Dentists can now plan implant placements more effectively, encourage bone growth more predictably, and place implants with more accuracy and into more areas.

Implants used to be regarded as a radical treatment alternative but are now seen as a superior treatment option for replacing lost teeth, and advances in design and materials are continuing.

How to Make the Most of the Advancement of the Dental Implant

To make the most of advances in dental implants, look for a dentist who’s a Fellow of the International Congress of Oral Implantologists with experience in computer-enhanced treatment planning and the latest treatment technologies.

With proper care, a dental implant can last a lifetime, so considering having implants fitted is no time for bargain hunting. Be wary of anyone offering “bargain” implants. They may cut corners to keep costs down by rushing the diagnostic and treatment processes and using inferior implant materials. In the long run, a below-par implant will likely need the attention of an implant expert to fix the problem.