A dental implant is a “root” device, usually made of titanium, used in dentistry to support restorations that resemble a tooth or group of teeth to replace missing teeth.
Virtually all dental implants placed today are root-form endosseous implants, i.e., they appear similar to an actual tooth root (and thus possess a “root-form”) and are placed within the bone (endo – being the Greek prefix for “in” and osseous referring to “bone”). The bone of the jaw accepts and osseointegrates with the titanium post. Osseointegration refers to the fusion of the implant surface with the surrounding bone. Dental implants will fuse with bone.
Dental implants can be used to support a number of dental prostheses, including crowns, implant-supported bridges or dentures.
Prior to commencement of surgery, careful and detailed planning is required to identify vital structures such as the inferior alveolar nerve or the sinus, as well as the shape and dimensions of the bone to properly orient the implants for the most predictable outcome. Two-dimensional radiographs, such as orthopantomographs or periapicals are often taken prior to the surgery. Sometimes, a CT scan can be used to plan the case.
Whether CT-guided or manual, a ‘stent’ may sometimes be used to facilitate the placement of implants. A surgical stent is an acrylic wafer that fits over either the teeth, the bone surface or the mucosa (when all the teeth are missing) with pre-drilled holes to show the position and angle of the implants to be placed. The surgical stent may be produced using stereolithography following computerized planning of a case from the CT scan. CT guided surgery may double the cost compared to more commonly accepted approaches.
In its most basic form, the placement of an implant requires preparation into the bone using either hand osteotomes or precision drills with highly regulated speed to prevent burning or pressure necrosis of the bone. After a variable amount of time to allow the bone to grow on to the surface of the implant (osseointegration), a crown or crowns can be placed on the implant. The amount of time required to place an implant will vary depending on the experience of the practitioner, the quality and quantity of the bone and the difficulty of the individual situation.
The amount of time that practitioners allow the implant to heal before placing a restoration on it varies widely. In general, practitioners allow 2–6 months for healing.