Almost all dental implants in use today are made from titanium or titanium alloy, materials that have been shown over many years to be well tolerated by bone. The terms ‘osseointegrated implants’ or ‘endosseous implants’ are widely used to describe dental implants that can develop and maintain a close union with bone in order to support replacement teeth.
There are many different implant systems available and when competently used they can all deliver a highly reliable form of treatment.
A dental implant is essentially a substitute for a natural root and commonly it is screw or cylinder shaped. Each implant is placed into a socket carefully drilled at the precise location of the intended tooth. If an implant has a screw-thread on its outer surface it can be screwed into position and if it does not, it is usually tapped into place. The main aim during installation of any implant is to achieve immediate close contact with the surrounding bone. This creates an initial stability, which over time is steadily enhanced by further growth of bone into microscopic roughnesses on the implant surface.
In order to support replacement teeth, dental implants normally have some form of internal screw thread or post space that allows a variety of components to be fitted. Once fitted, these components provide the foundation for long-term support of crowns, bridges or dentures.
How many teeth can be supported by implants?
All the common forms of tooth replacement, such as bridges or dentures can be replaced by dental implants.
If you are missing just one natural tooth, then one implant is normally all that will be needed to provide a replacement. Larger spaces created by two, three or more missing teeth do not necessarily need one implant per tooth, however the exact number of implants will depend upon the quality and volume of bone at each potential implant site.
Occasionally, it is even possible to join natural teeth to implants with a conventional bridge.
In the upper jaw, bone density is generally poorer than in the lower and if you have no teeth at all, most treatment providers will want to place a minimum of 6 implants to support a complete arch of 10 or more replacement teeth.
In the lower jaw, the bone towards the front of the mouth is often very strong and as a direct result, fewer implants may be needed than are required to treat a whole upper jaw. A simple treatment plan to provide 10 or more teeth in the lower jaw might be possible with as few as 4 implants, although it is still more common to use 5 or 6.
What else can be done with dental implants?
If you have no teeth in the lower jaw, and are not yet ready for multiple implant placements, a conventional lower denture can be considerably improved with two implants placed beneath the
front section – this is called an ‘overdenture’. The same overdenture concept when used to treat the upper jaw, will usually require more implants as the bone is generally softer. Implant-supported overdentures, just like conventional dentures are still removed for daily cleaning, however, once back in the mouth, the implants make them much more stable.
Whilst not suitable for everyone, with proper preparation it is sometimes possible to fit new implant-supported teeth on the same day. This fast-track treatment can be applied to a number of different situations, however, you do have to balance shorter treatment times against an increased risk of implant failure.
There are many options and every case can be dealt with in a number of ways. You will therefore need to talk to someone who has examined your mouth thoroughly, before having a clear idea as to what is possible.
Dental implants have to obey simple engineering principles, in that they must be placed in strong foundations with enough of them to prevent overloading. In addition each implant must be accessible for daily cleaning so that the biology of the mouth can be used to maintain healthy surrounding bone and gum.
Who is suitable for dental implants?
If you have good general health then dental implants will almost certainly work for you. However, habits such as heavy drinking or smoking can increase the number of problems associated with initial healing and thereafter may negatively influence the long-term health of gum and bone surrounding each implant. Remaining teeth might also be compromised making treatment planning less certain.
Some dentists will decline to place implants if smoking cannot be reduced or given up altogether.
If you have any other complicated medical problems then speak to someone with relevant experience – it is rare to have health problems that prevent the use of dental implants.