A completely restored dental implant consists of three parts:
- The implant, which is a small titanium post placed in your jawbone
- The abutment, which attaches to the implant after healing time and raises the level of it to above your gum level
- The final restoration, which could be a crown, a bridge, a denture or another appliance
The first step in the dental implant process is to have the implant placed. Healing time allows your bone to grow around the surface of the implant to anchor it. We call this integrating or integration. Healing time can range from 6 weeks to 6 months. Three (3) months is the average for your implant to be ready for the final restoration. (Upper implants may take longer to integrate than lower ones because the bone type is different.)
Your dental implant provides a base for the rest of the restoration. If you are doing a crown, bridge, or “all on four” type restoration, an abutment will screw into the implant. In some cases the crown or bridge is cemented to the abutment at the dental lab and then screwed onto the implants in your mouth; in other cases, the abutment is screwed into the dental implant first and then the crown is cemented over the abutment—this is usually done for cosmetic reasons.
Implants can also be used to anchor a denture or other removable appliance. This type of restoration usually needs multiple implants (at least 2). The abutment is a different shape than that used for crowns. It may be a locator type, which fits on each individual implant, or the implants may be connected by a bar.
Once you have your dental implants, you should follow up with your dentist at 3 and 6 months to check healing, and then once a year after that—even if all you have is implants. Implants are metal, so they won’t decay, but you can still develop a periodontal type problem around them and lose bone around the implant. If you lose too much bone, the dental implant will fail. (Note: You may need to return to your dentist more often if you have a mix of dental implants and natural teeth in your mouth)
There are few physical downsides to dental implants and they have shown good longevity. If they are taken care of properly, dental implants can last 20 years.
The drawbacks to dental implants:
- They are expensive ($2000-6000 for 1 implant and crown) but the cost is comparable to a fixed bridge.
- Some insurances still do not cover implants. For example, Medicare often does not.
- Time involved in healing. In most cases, you are not going to walk out with a final restoration the day you get the implants placed. (In most cases, you can get a temporary appliance to wear while healing, but you do need to plan ahead so that it is ready for your appointment.
One option to offset the expense is to plan ahead—if your insurance covers a dental implant, do the implant toward the end of one benefit year so you have benefits for the abutment and restoration on the implant the next insurance benefit year. Or if you are planning to retire and your current insurance covers dental implants, consider having them done in the years before you retire just in case your retirement insurance or Medicare does not cover them.
Note: The information in this article is not meant to replace the clinical judgement of your health care professionals.
Dr. Jennifer Robb is a general dentist. She restores but does not place dental implants. She can refer you to a specialist who will place the dental implant.
Call 440-960-1940 to inquire.
1320 Cooper Foster Park Rd.
Lorain, OH 44053