The History of Dental Implants
The earliest evidence of endosseous implants, those embedded directly into the bone, can be found in ancient Maya Civilization circa 600 A.D. These pieces of shell are a far cry from what we use today however. We can thank the discovery of titanium’s symbiotic relationship with human tissue in the mid 20th century for modern dental implant technology. After years of experimentation, Swedish surgeon PI Branemark placed the first dental implant in 1965. Decades later we’ve seen massive improvements in the technology and integration of these implants. In addition to seamlessly replacing a missing tooth, they have become useful tools in orthodontic treatment and dentures.
But how exactly do they work?
What are Dental Implants?
Dental implants provide a foundation for replacement teeth that look, feel, and function just like natural teeth. No more need to deal with uncomfortable dentures or bridges. With dental implants, a person who has lost teeth regains the ability to eat and smile.
How a Dental Implant is Placed
Implants are crafted from titanium. This material allows for bone infiltration, making room for osteoblast – the cells that make our bone – activity to take place. This leads to osseointegration, where the bone grows in and around the implant, which secures it in place and allows for its successful function.
An implant restoration can be broken down into three parts:
This is the actual titanium that is embedded in your bone. This requires a certain amount of space on all sides of the implant to work. If this space is lacking, your dentist will discuss different surgical options to create it, including bone grafts and sinus lifts.
Depending on your situation and what, if any, surgery is needed prior to implant placement, this part of the procedure will take one or two sessions. It is most typically performed 2 – 3 months after the removal of your natural tooth to allow sufficient healing time. This piece functions as the root of your tooth.
Before the dentist can put the crown in and finish your restoration, they need something to connect it to the implant, which is now resting below your gum line and out of sight. For this, they use an abutment. This is typically fabricated and placed 2-3 months after your implant goes in to ensure that the proper amount of osseointegration has occurred. This second piece represents the core of the tooth. In our office, we typically combine or cement the abutment with the third part of your implant, the crown.
We've come to the final part of your restoration, the crown. This will be crafted to match your natural teeth in shape and color. The crown is either cemented to the abutment and screwed into the implant, or it is cemented onto an abutment that has already been screwed into the implant.
Success of Dental Implants
There is now a 90 – 95% success rate generally for the placement of implants, which can be decreased by smoking or uncontrolled diabetes. Signs of failing implants are more than 1 mm of bone loss after the first year, lack of osseointegration, and peri-implantitis (destructive inflammation of the surrounding tissue and bone).
Alternatives to Dental Implants
If you and your dentist determine an implant is not for you, there are other options out there, from the more temporary (flippers, retainers) to the more permanent (dentures, bridges). See our other sections to learn more about these treatments, and talk to our dentist about which is right for you!