Humans have long understood the vital importance of our teeth and have been experimenting with replacement teeth for hundreds of years. For example, the Mayan people of North and Central America successfully used shells to replace teeth as early as 600 AD, while Renaissance-era Europeans did dental implants with teeth extracted from the underprivileged and from cadavers (many of which were stolen from the grave!).
Today, implantology (the science of dental implants) is an advanced medical discipline that can effectively address a diverse range of tooth replacement needs. In addition to using natural-looking, biocompatible materials, dental implants have been further elevated by advances in medical technology. Implant dentists (called implantologists) now use three-dimensional digital imaging and implant surgical planning software to accurately analyze an individual’s facial anatomy and to chart a precise treatment plan for each patient.
Your implant dentist will work closely with you to develop an individualized treatment plan that restores your smile’s health, function, and beauty. Here’s what you need to know about the dental implant types and techniques that may be used to meet your individual implant goals and needs.
Types of Dental Implants
A dental implant is an artificial tooth root that is surgically placed into your jaw to provide a stable anchor for one or more prosthetic teeth. Because they interact with the gum tissues and the bone structure of your mouth, dental implants most effectively replicate the function and appearance of your natural teeth. There are two main types of dental implants:
Endosteal implants are the most common type of dental implant. Meaning “within the bone,” this type of dental implant is surgically placed directly into the jawbone. During the weeks following endosteal implant placement, bone will grow around the implant (called osseointegration), securely anchoring the implant in place.
There are two types of endosteal implants—cylinder and blade. Cylinder implants are titanium screws and are the most commonly-used endosteal implant. Blade implants are thin, flat titanium pieces that may be used when the alveolar process (the part of your jawbone that holds your teeth) has atrophied. Both types of endosteal implants have a post (abutment) that sits above the gum tissue, onto which the prosthetic tooth or teeth are eventually placed.
Though less commonly used, subperiosteal implants are considered for patients who have experienced bone loss and for those who lack adequate natural jawbone to support an endosteal implant, without first having a bone augmentation or grafting procedure. This type of dental implant is placed under the gum—either on or above the outer layer of connective tissue that covers the jawbone’s surface (called the periosteum).
Subperiosteal implants are thin titanium frames, with an attached post, that are custom-made to fit the unique contours of each patient’s jawbone. The gum heals around the frame, securing it in place. A prosthetic tooth is then placed on the post that sits above the gum’s surface.
Types of Replacement Teeth
Your prosthetic teeth will be custom-made to create an aesthetically-pleasing result that matches the features of your mouth and any remaining teeth.
Used for replacing a single tooth, a dental crown is an attractive, natural-looking prosthetic tooth that is made out of porcelain, gold, or alloys or out of a combination of these materials.
Used for replacing two or more adjacent teeth, an implant-supported dental bridge is a series of dental crowns that are connected to form a continuous bridge.
Used for replacing the entire upper or lower row of teeth, implant-supported dentures are a set of removable prosthetic teeth that are supported by at least two dental implants. The dentures have an acrylic base that resembles the gums with either porcelain or acrylic prosthetic teeth.
Dental Implant Techniques
As every patient’s situation is unique, numerous dental implant techniques can be used to provide a patient with the best scenario to successfully replace one, several, or all missing teeth.
To best support your dental implants, the jawbone may need to be restored or regenerated. Bone augmentation uses bone graft material, which contains collagen and proteins to encourage bone growth and to fortify your jawbone before implant placement.
Also known as sinus augmentation and sinus elevation, a sinus lift can address insufficient bone quality and quantity in the upper back jaw, in addition to elevating a sinus floor that is too low for implant placement. During a sinus lift procedure, the sinus floor is repositioned, and then bone grafting material is used to fortify the sinus bone before implant placement.
Also known as ridge modification, ridge expansion addresses upper and lower jawbone deficiencies and abnormalities that cannot otherwise accommodate an implant. To dramatically elevate implant success and aesthetics, bone graft material is used to build up the ridge (alveolar process) prior to implant placement.
Hinted to by the name, All-on-4 replaces an entire set of upper or lower teeth on only four dental implant posts. In addition to eliminating the need for bone grafting, All-on-4 dental implants have specialized abutments (posts) that allow a temporary set of replacement teeth to be immediately placed. The temporary replacement teeth are worn for a period of approximately six months, while a modified diet is followed to allow for gum tissue healing and osseointegration. The temporary teeth are then replaced with a permanent full dental bridge of fully functional, natural-looking teeth.
Immediate load dental implants.
Also known as same-day implants, or Teeth-in-a-Day®, an immediate load dental implant treatment places both the dental implant and the temporary prosthetic tooth in a single visit. Immediate load dental implants are used when a patient has enough healthy jawbone to securely support an implant and to withstand pressure on the temporary prosthetic tooth.
Mini Dental Implants (MDIs).
Also known as small or narrow diameter implants, MDIs are narrow endosteal implants that are primarily used to anchor implant-supported dentures on the lower jaw. MDIs are considered a less invasive implant treatment and are an option for those who have experienced bone deterioration and are not ideal candidates for bone grafting treatments.
All options considered, dental implants are a reliable solution to replace missing teeth, to restore oral health and function, and to reclaim your smile’s beauty. Your dentist can help you understand your best options for dental implant treatment and can assist you in planning your unique dental implant journey.
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