A dental implant is a surgical component that interfaces with the bone of the jaw or skull to support a dental prosthesis such as a crown, bridge, denture, facial prosthesis or to act as an orthodontic anchor. The basis for modern dental implants is a biologic process called osseointegration, in which materials such as titanium form an intimate bond to bone. The implant fixture is first placed so that it is likely to osseointegrate, then a dental prosthetic is added. A variable amount of healing time is required for osseointegration before either the dental prosthetic (a tooth, bridge or denture) is attached to the implant or an abutment is placed which will hold a dental prosthetic/crown.
Success or failure of implants depends on the health of the person receiving the treatment, drugs which affect the chances of osseointegration, and the health of the tissues in the mouth. The amount of stress that will be put on the implant and fixture during normal function is also evaluated. Planning the position and number of implants is key to the long-term health of the prosthetic since biomechanical forces created during chewing can be significant. The position of implants is determined by the position and angle of adjacent teeth, by lab simulations or by using computed tomography with CAD/CAM simulations and surgical guides called stents. The prerequisites for long-term success of osseointegrated dental implants are healthy bone and gingiva. Since both can atrophy after tooth extraction, pre-prosthetic procedures such as sinus lifts or gingival grafts are sometimes required to recreate ideal bone and gingiva.
The final prosthetic can be either fixed, where a person cannot remove the denture or teeth from their mouth, or removable, where they can remove the prosthetic. In each case an abutment is attached to the implant fixture. Where the prosthetic is fixed, the crown, bridge or denture is fixed to the abutment either with lag screws or with dental cement. Where the prosthetic is removable, a corresponding adapter is placed in the prosthetic so that the two pieces can be secured together.
The risks and complications related to implant therapy divide into those that occur during surgery (such as excessive bleeding or nerve injury), those that occur in the first six months (such as infection and failure to osseointegrate) and those that occur long-term (such as peri-implantitis and mechanical failures). In the presence of healthy tissues, a well-integrated implant with appropriate biomechanical loads can have 5-year plus survival rates from 93 to 98 percent and 10 to 15 year lifespans for the prosthetic teeth. Long-term studies show a 16- to 20-year success (implants surviving without complications or revisions) between 52% and 76%, with complications occurring up to 48% of the time.
The prosthetic phase begins once the implant is well integrated (or has a reasonable assurance that it will integrate) and an abutment is in place to bring it through the mucosa. Even in the event of early loading (less than 3 months), many practitioners will place temporary teeth until osseointegration is confirmed. The prosthetic phase of restoring an implant requires an equal amount of technical expertise as the surgical because of the biomechanical considerations, especially when multiple teeth are to be restored. The dentist will work to restore the vertical dimension of occlusion, the esthetics of the smile, and the structural integrity of the teeth to evenly distribute the forces of the implants.
After placement, implants need to be cleaned (similar to natural teeth) with a periodontal scaler to remove any plaque. Because of the more precarious blood supply to the gingiva, care should be taken with dental floss. Implants will lose bone at a rate similar to natural teeth in the mouth (e.g. if someone suffers from periodontal disease, an implant can be affected by a similar disorder) but will otherwise last.