Dental implants are artificial root replacements, topped by a single artificial tooth (called a crown) or multiple artificial teeth (called a bridge). They replace missing or damaged teeth, fill in unwanted gaps, keep teeth aligned, and help stabilize jaw structure. Since your teeth and jaw play such a large role in your facial symmetry, implants can actually impact your overall appearance.
People typically get dental implants if one or more of their teeth are missing or damaged. They offer more of a long-term solution than many other options and better accommodate smile insecurities, which many people experience as a result of their issues. To understand dental implants in all of their complexities, there are a few different methods to review.
Types of Dental Implants
There are three types of dental implants–all of which involve similar procedures but different teeth replacements. Each implant includes a crown or a bridge. As a reminder, a crown is a single artificial tooth while a bridge consists of several artificial teeth, or crowns, bonded together. Unlike a typical bridge that attaches a set of replacement teeth to natural roots, an implant bridge attaches them to artificial roots (aka implants).
Using a crown, a single prosthesis replaces one or few missing teeth, and each artificial tooth is attached to a separate, individual implant. They can be used for an entire row of teeth, but using single implants to replace a whole row requires more surgery–costing you more time and money. If you need more than one implant in a row, it’s best to consider other options.
Using a fixed bridge (several crowns bonded together), a partial prosthesis replaces two or more missing teeth with just two or three implants–typically with a gap in between, to make way for the extra tooth or teeth on the bridge. This is not to be confused with the traditional dental bridge, which attaches to surrounding natural tooth roots rather than artificial implants. A partial prosthesis can also include partial dentures, which essentially connect two bridges at different locations on the jaw with a metal connector–supported by implants.
Using a fixed bridge, a complete prosthesis replaces all of the teeth on the upper and/or lower jaw. There are two different types of complete prostheses–removable and fixed. A removable prosthesis, also called an Overdenture, attaches to several implant abutments (the connections between each implant to a crown/bridge/denture) and can be snapped in and out by the patient. A fixed prosthesis, or permanent denture, also attaches to several abutments but is removable only by a dentist. When receiving complete prostheses on both the maxillary (top) and mandibular (bottom) jawbone, there are several attachment methods considered by our team:
- All-on-4, which means that 2 implants go on top, while the other 2 go on the bottom
- All-on-6, or 3-on-6 (3 implants on top, 3 implants on bottom)
- All-on-8 (the least common of the three, and typically 4 implants on top, 4 implants on bottom)
These methods determine how sturdy an implant is; the more implants, the more sturdy. However, the situation at hand determines whether more or less are needed.
Mini Dental Implant
In addition to traditional implants, there is also the option for mini dental implants. These are smaller in size and placed over the surface of the gums rather than underneath (it’s also important to note here that the size of the implant is smaller, not the tooth). Mini dental implants incorporate the same three types of implants as traditional ones–either a single, partial, or complete prosthesis. The major differences come down to cost and patient qualification. Mini implants are much cheaper and do not involve surgery as invasive as traditional ones, so more people are eligible to receive them.
A dental implant involves several processes to ensure the safety of the surgery. Beforehand, a dental specialist will examine the patient’s mouth and take x-rays to determine if their gums and bone are ready for surgery. Once it’s ready, the surgery can be arranged, and the implant(s) can be placed. Afterward, the patient is advised to attentively care for their teeth and allow time for healing. Mini dental implants require a bit of a different process and shorter healing time but still need attentive care afterward.
The dentist cannot perform the procedure until measures have been taken to ensure the bone structure is ready for drilling. Bone grafts may be necessary, but not in all cases–it will depend entirely on the patient’s jaw size and bone density. Once the foundation is set, the surgery can be scheduled.
If the surgery involves the use of anesthesia, an IV will be inserted in the patient’s arm before the procedure begins. If you prefer to be awake, numbing medicine will be injected into your gums beforehand. Once everything is prepped and the patient is ready, the dentist will begin by drilling into the gums and jaw bone. Then, he or she will screw in the implant(s) and, in some cases, attach an abutment during the same surgery. The upper or lower gums may also be trimmed to allow for a more leveled and acquired smile.
Pain after implant surgery is usually minimal; however, you should still expect to experience some discomfort, swelling, bruising, and minor bleeding. The extent to which patients experience these symptoms largely depends on the type of procedure involved. If needed, the dentist can prescribe stronger drugs, but Ibuprofen or Tylenol typically does the trick for the less-invasive surgeries.
Afterward, patients should allow time for healing, which can take several months. The jawbone and mouth need healing time to make sure the teeth have a strong, long-term foundation. To avoid complications such as infection or excessive bleeding, gentle brushing–away from the direct surgical site–is suggested for the first two weeks or so. Additionally, solid foods are not recommended–especially those that are tough or sharp, as they can irritate the surgical site and increase risk of infection.
Over the course of one or more appointments, abutments will be placed, followed by temporary and/or permanent teeth replacements. From this point, the implant site(s) will not fully heal for at least 6 months, but the pain should subside fairly quickly.
Mini Dental Implant Procedure
Mini dental implants, on the other hand, require a much less-invasive surgical procedure and shorter recovery time. Before the procedure can begin, the bone structure will still need examination, but after that, the process is a breeze. The surgery itself may still incorporate anesthesia but will require smaller holes to drill in the jawbone since smaller implants are used. Most of the time, the dentist will even attach the crown(s), bridge, or denture immediately after the procedure. It may cause a bit of discomfort for the following few days, but medication can help ease the pain. Swelling may also occur, but when it does, it usually goes away in just 48 hours. In terms of healing time, it takes approximately a week for the gums to heal and a month for the jawbone. It is highly recommended that solid foods are avoided and teeth are brushed carefully for at least the first month to avoid agitating the surgical site, especially since these implants aren’t quite as sturdy as the full-sized ones.
If you have any further questions about dental implants or would like to speak with a specialist about your options, please schedule a consultation.