What are dental implants?

Dental implants are post-like structures made of titanium and other materials that are surgically placed directly into the jawbone. They act as a secure anchor to support replacement teeth, whether it be a single tooth, multiple teeth, or even a whole set of teeth.

Dental implants are an excellent way of replacing missing teeth. Implants are secure and long-lasting and are designed to blend in with your natural teeth, creating a permanent, stable solution for missing teeth.

If you are self-conscious about your missing teeth, have trouble chewing properly because of missing teeth or uncomfortable dentures, or are about to lose a permanent tooth, dental implants may be the solution you have been looking for. Unlike dentures, implants stay fixed in your mouth and do not move around or need to be taken out at night. Once in place, implants are often secure for life and can give many years of trouble-free service.

Lower jaw with a single tooth being replaced by a dental implantDental implants can be used to replace missing teeth. 

Dentures

A removable frame with artificial teeth. Also known as false teeth.

Before the procedure

Since a certain amount of healthy bone is needed to support an implant, it is important to evaluate the quantity and quality of remaining bone before planning implant treatment. To do this, your dentist may ask for the following scans to help plan your treatment:

  • Moulds of your mouth will be taken to create a plaster cast, which will help the dentist to plan placement sites and angulations for implants. A panoramic X-ray, also called an orthopantogram (OPG), may also be requested, and;
  • A computerised tomography (CT) scan or cone beam CT scan (which uses a cone-shaped X-ray beam) may be requested to show a 3D image of the area where the implants might be placed. It also shows the location of any major nerves, sinuses or other structures that need to be avoided.

You may also have to take oral antibiotics and/or a special antibacterial mouthwash preventatively in the days prior to surgery.

Computerised tomography

A scan that uses X-rays to create a 3D image of the body. This can detect abnormalities more effectively than a simple X-ray can.

Sinuses

A cavity within bone or other bodily tissue. Often refers to the hollow cavities within the facial bones on either side of the nose that filter the air that is breathed in through the nose.

X-ray

A scan that uses ionising radiation beams to create an image of the body’s internal structures.

During the procedure

The dental implant procedure can vary depending on the number and location of implants. In general, during the procedure a local anaesthetic will be used to numb the implant area (though a general anaesthetic is sometimes used instead). Using a dental drill, the area is then prepared and the implant inserted into the jawbone. Depending on your circumstances, a false tooth will be applied to the implant immediately following placement, or as much as several months after. The false tooth can be in the form of a single crown, a bridge replacing several teeth, or a full denture to replace a whole arch of teeth.

If you are missing more than one tooth, or a whole row of teeth, they can be replaced with two or more dental implants to span across the space. A small number of implants can support a longer bridge or a whole denture in the upper or lower jaw. Not every single tooth needs to be replaced by an individual implant.

Dental implants supporting a dental bridge and full denture to replace multiple missing teeth.Dental implant options to replace multiple missing teeth. 

Crown

Also commonly called a cap. This is an artificial shell of porcelain, or metal, or both that is made in a laboratory designed to fit over all or part of the surface of a tooth. It restores the tooth’s form, function and desired colour and is permanently cemented to the underlying prepared tooth.

General anaesthetic

An anaesthetic given to a person to put them to sleep while having an operation or medical procedure. Afterwards, the person regains consciousness and usually has no memory of the procedure. A general anaesthetic is given in hospital by a specialist called an anaesthetist.

Local anaesthetic

A type of medication that, when administered to an area, creates a localised loss of sensation by blocking nerve activity.

Length of procedure

A single tooth implant takes roughly one to two hours in total. Overall, the length of the procedure can vary according to the number of teeth involved, which teeth need to be replaced and whether a tooth needs to be removed first. The number of follow-up visits also differs from person to person.

Risks involved

Despite a high success rate, dental implant surgery carries a risk of complications, including:

  • Infection;
  • Injury or damage to surrounding structures such as blood vessels, sinuses and nerves;
  • Poor wound healing - this is of particular concern for individuals with poorly controlled diabetes, with the implant procedure often delayed until your blood sugars are well controlled;
  • Sinus problems - when the dental implants are located in the upper jaw and affect your sinus cavities, and;
  • Implant failure - tobacco use is known to impair healing and reduce blood supply to soft tissues. For this reason, smokers and tobacco chewers have an increased risk of complications following implant placement and an increased risk that the implant will not integrate into the jawbone and will ultimately fail. Giving up tobacco use before implant surgery and during the healing period will greatly increase the chances of success. Talk to your dentist or health professional for more information on how to quit smoking.

Diabetes

A metabolic disorder that is caused by problems with insulin secretion and regulation and which is characterised by high blood sugar levels. Also known as diabetes mellitus.

Sinuses

A cavity within bone or other bodily tissue. Often refers to the hollow cavities within the facial bones on either side of the nose that filter the air that is breathed in through the nose.