What is a dental implant?

Dental implants replace missing teeth with artificial teeth that are as strong and functional as natural teeth. A dental implant consists of a metal post inserted into your jawbone, which acts like a tooth root. The post is attached to a connector that is attached to a false tooth (crown) or dentures. Dental implants restore your ability to chew and speak, improve the appearance of your smile, and preserve your facial structure.

It is important to replace missing teeth because this condition can lead to the loss of jawbone tissue and the shifting of other teeth. This can result in changes in facial structure and problems with biting, chewing and speaking. 

A dental implant preserves the bone in your jaw and facial structure and is as functional and strong as a natural tooth. Dental implants can last a lifetime with proper care. Other tooth replacement options, such as bridges and removable dentures, fill gaps from missing teeth and help to improve or maintain facial structure. However, they do not save bone tissue and they generally need periodic replacement or repair.  

Placing a dental implant is generally considered safe, but there are risks and potential complications. A dental implant is only one method used to replace missing teeth. Discuss all of your treatment options with your provider to understand which options are right for you.

Types of dental implants

Types of dental implants include:

  • Endosteal implants are screw-like devices drilled directly into your jawbone, like a natural tooth root. They are the most common type of implant. 
  • Subperiosteal implants are titanium frameworks secured underneath your gums on top of the jawbone. They are used when there is not enough bone to insert implants directly into the bone. Subperiosteal implants are used in people who have lost jawbone after having missing teeth for a long time. 

Your dental implants can be used to support two different types of false teeth. They include:

  • Implant-supported dentures are used when you have many missing teeth. They are similar to conventional dentures because they are made of false teeth attached to false plastic gums. However, implant-supported denFtures clip directly onto a post that is attached to your implants in the jawbone instead of lying loosely on your gums as traditional dentures do. Attachment of implant-supported dentures to the jaw prevents them from sliding and making noise when you eat or talk. You can remove implant-supported dentures yourself to clean and care for them. 
  • Single-tooth or multiple-tooth fixed implants are not removable. They consist of individual false teeth (crowns) that are attached to abutment connectors that are secured to your metal post implants in the jawbone. 

Other procedures that may be performed

Your provider may perform other procedures before your dental implant procedure to improve the strength and security of the implant. These include:

  • Ridge modification builds up bone in your jaw so it can hold a dental implant securely. Ridge modification involves peeling back the gums and adding a bone substitute or bone from another part of your body to your jaw. You will likely wait several months to a year for the new bone to heal and develop before it is ready for a dental implant. Sometimes, a dental implant is placed during the same procedure.
  • Sinus lift surgery allows the upper back jaw to hold a dental implant securely. The back upper jaw is the area under your sinus cavity. Sinus lift surgery involves peeling back the gums, pushing a small area of bone higher up into the sinus cavity, and filling the space with bone from another part of your body or a bone substitute. You will likely wait several months to a year for the new bone to heal and develop before it is ready for a dental implant. Sometimes, a dental implant is placed during the same procedure.
  • Tooth extraction removes any teeth that are damaged or decayed beyond repair.

Why is a dental implant performed? 

Your dentist may recommend a dental implant to replace a missing tooth, several missing teeth, or to provide you with an entire set of stable dentures that attach to the jawbone. A dental implant is not appropriate for everyone. Many factors go into determining who is a candidate for a dental implant, so talk to your dentist about your situation and the best treatment option for you.