What Exactly Is A Dental Implant Anyway?
So what exactly is an implant? We get this question all the time (in one form or another). Many times we see patients who want/need a tooth replaced, have heard that a dental implant is the way to go, but don’t really have any idea exactly what an implant is, or how we get from point A (no tooth) to point B (natural-looking functional tooth). So here’s the explanation…what’s an implant and how do we get there. Have questions? Give us a call! We’d be happy to sit down face-to-face and answer them for you!
What’s an implant?
To put it quite simply, an implant is a 100% artificial tooth. It’s the only type of prosthetic that both looks & functions like the body part it replaces. When you think about that for a minute, it’s really pretty amazing. There are plenty of great prosthetic limbs, but most of them don’t actually look like an arm, leg, hand, foot, etc. There’s also plenty of prosthetic eyes, ears, and noses out there, but those eyes don’t see, the ears don’t hear, and the noses don’t smell things. Those prosthetics are just cosmetic. A dental implant on the other hand looks like a tooth and functions like a tooth. While that may not sound like a big deal, when you consider the tremendous amount of force involved in chewing, it’s really a pretty big accomplishment!
So you’re thinking ‘Okay, that’s nice…but what is it?’ There’s really three parts to your average implant. The implant itself is the artificial root that goes down into the bone. The implant is made of titanium, a very safe and inert material that the bone in your jaws can do a great job of growing around to the stabilize the implant. Once we have that artificial root in place, there’s a piece that screws into the implant (called an abutment), which then holds the crown (the third part). Placing the crown and the abutment is typically a quick and easy process requiring no anesthetic. In between when the root for the new tooth (the implant) is placed and when the crown is placed on it, there is typically a healing period of anywhere from 3-6 months.
So How Do We Get There?
So that’s the ‘what’…now for the how. First allow me to make the disclaimer that this is not the way everyone places an implant, and the process varies based on specific patient scenarios. That said, we go to great lengths to utilize the available technology to get the best possible results for our patients. First, we start with a 3D x-ray (called a cone-beam CT or a CBCT) to help us see the bone and surrounding tissue in all three dimensions. This 3D x-ray is then combined with a digital model of the mouth which then allows us to digitally plan the exact location for the tooth, and then the implant that will hold the new tooth. Using this plan, we have a ‘guide’ printed on a 3D printer which directs the instruments to the exact position in the mouth that was planned on the 3D x-ray. A small hole corresponding to the size of the implant is made, and the implant is placed through the 3D printed guide to the exact position planned on the computer. This gives us the greatest degree of accuracy possible, and thus the best outcome possible for our patients. Additionally, this reduces the time it takes to place the implant and keeps the surgical site smaller, oftentimes no larger than the actual implant (3-5mm in diameter) which translates into less discomfort for our patients. By using advanced imaging and 3D printing technology, Dr. Shank is able to restore smiles predictably and comfortably. Call our Indianapolis office located at US 31 and Southport Rd to discuss how we can help restore your smile, or click the ‘Send us an Email’ link on the right-hand side of your screen! Want more details? Take a look at the following pictures to see what the process looks like!
Here we have a digital model of the upper teeth. You'll notice one of the teeth is broken off. Unfortunately there's not enough left to work with and this tooth is going to have to be removed and replaced.
For the next step we replace the tooth on the model. The position of the implant must be determined by the position of the final tooth. If the implant is placed without regard to where the final tooth will be, the esthetic result will not be ideal.
The 3D X-ray (called a CBCT) is merged with the model of the mouth, taking care to ensure that the alignment is perfect. The alignment is verified through several different views on the computer.
The implant is then placed virtually, selecting the ideal size of implant (length, width, and taper).
The implant position is verified from all angles to ensure that it is in the perfect position.
The final crown cemented on the implant. While the alignment of the patient's natural teeth is not ideal, this replacement tooth blends in very nicely with the other teeth in the mouth.