Expert Doctor

Dental Implants

A dental implant is a type of dental restoration used to replace a missing tooth. It is basically a small screw, made of titanium, which is surgically inserted into the jawbone to act like the root of a missing tooth. The top part of the implant, which protrudes from the bone, is where an artificial tooth crown will be attached. Working together, the implant and the crown are equal to a tooth. An implant is sometimes used to support a fixed bridge or a denture. Because implants fuse to the jawbone, they provide stable support for any artificial teeth. Bridges and dentures that are mounted to implants won't slip or shift in the mouth.

Am I a Good Candidate for Dental Implants?

Patients who are GOOD CANDIDATES for dental implants include:

  • Those with healthy gums and an adequate amount of bone to support the implant
  • Anyone who has lost one or more teeth due to decay, accidents or congenital anomalies
  • Patients who do not want other tooth replacement options such as partial dentures and fixed bridges (although they can be used as well)

Patients who are NOT GOOD CANDIDATES for dental implants include:

  • Someone without an adequate amount of bone to support the implant
  • Since dental implants require a surgical operation, they carry a slightly lower success rate for patients who do not heal well (such as smokers and diabetics)
  • A person without gums that are healthy enough to support an implant

How is Dental Implants Performed?

The first step in the dental implant process is undergoing a comprehensive dental examination including X-rays. The dentist will then prepare a treatment plan designed to address the dental needs of the individual patient. An impression of the area being treated will be used to make the dental implant.

On the day of the treatment, anesthesia or sedation is normally used to numb the treatment area and to help control any pain and discomfort during the procedure.

If the tooth is still located in the area to be treated, it will need to be extracted by the dentist before the implant is placed. Once the tooth is extracted, the dentist will drill a hole in the jawbone that feels similar to having a cavity drilled in the mouth. The implant is then placed deep into the jawbone so it will serve as an artificial root for the new tooth.  As the jawbone continues to heal, it will fuse with the dental implant. The amount of time it takes varies per patient. Once the dentist determines that the implant is stable, an abutment is placed on top of it to serve as a connector to the crown. The abutment is then tightened into place so it will not move around while the patient is chewing and/or eating. The crown is attached to the abutment to complete the process.

Jawbone Graft

If there are issues with the jawbone being too soft, or not thick enough, the patient might need bone grafting in order for the implant to have proper support and a solid base.

A piece of bone is removed from another part of the jaw, or the body, and is transplanted into the jawbone. In addition, an artificial bone can be placed in the area. Minor bone grafting can happen at the same time as the implant surgery while larger cases of bone grafting might require several months before the transplanted bone grows enough to support a dental implant.

Fixed Bridges and Removable Partial Dentures

Prior to dental implants, there were two ways to replace a missing tooth:

  • A fixed bridge is used in cases where there is at least one tooth on each side of the missing one. The replacement false tooth, called a pontic, is attached to the natural teeth next to it on both the left and right sides. The teeth that provide support for the pontic are known as abutments. The pontic is attached to the crowns that will be put on the abutments. Basically, the pontic is the beam of the bridge while the abutments are the poles that support it. A fixed bridge is a permanent type of restoration attached to the supporting teeth using special dental cement.
  • Removable partial dentures are similar to conventional dentures made of metal, acrylic or a combination of both. It makes use of acrylic pontics. A partial denture is indicated if there is not enough bone to support an implant, if there are no available teeth to support a fixed bridge, if several teeth are missing or the space is too long to accommodate an implant or a fixed bridge.

The main advantage of a dental implant over fixed bridges and removable dentures is that it is anchored to the jawbone which makes it extremely stable due to solid support. Since it is inserted into the bone, the bone will not shrink away over time. Dental implants are also much easier to clean and maintain than the other options. They also look, feel and function much better than fixed bridges and dentures. However, partial dentures and fixed bridges do not require surgery.

An implant maintains the integrity of the bone that supports it while fixed bridges and removable dentures do not. When fixed bridges and dentures are used, the false teeth rest against the gums. Over time, the bone underneath will shrink away and eventually start a little gap under the false teeth. Once that happens, the patient will start having food that catches in the gap. With removable dentures, patients are required to take off their dentures at night and store them in a disinfecting solution. What patients do not like about fixed bridges is the removal of tooth structure on the abutments to accommodate the crown that will be placed on them. Implants can be used to replace a patient's entire dentition.  It is not necessary to place an implant for each tooth.

What is the Cost of Dental Implants?

The cost of dental implants varies per patient because they are customized for each individual person. The cost can also include fees charged by the facility or the lab, the geographic location of the treatment and any additional fees charged by the dentist. In general, the cost ranges from $3000-$6500.

Recovery and Downtime

Dental implant surgery requires very little RECOVERY or DOWNTIME on the part of the patient. It is similar to having a tooth pulled out and then resuming normal daily activities. In procedures involving both tooth extraction and implant placement, any swelling, bleeding or pain mostly results from removing the tooth and not from implant placement.


The results of dental implants can be seen, and felt, immediately. As long as the instructions from the dentist are followed, and the patient has regular dental visits, dental implants should last for at least a decade.

Dental implants do not decay like natural teeth do over the years. However, their lifespan can be shortened in patients who develop gum disease. If the gum disease is managed, the dental implant will last longer. Otherwise, gum disease that is left untreated for a long time can cause the dental implant to eventually be lost.

Patients are advised to be more meticulous in their oral hygiene practices. They are advised to brush at least twice a day, use dental floss to clean between the teeth and use mouthwash on a regular basis. Visiting the dentist for regular checkups and professional cleaning is also necessary.

Limitations of Dental Implants

Some of the limitations of dental implants include:

  • Patients who are not willing to undergo surgery may be limited from this procedure
  • Patients with active gum disease may be limited from having dental implants until they get the disease under control
  • Patients that do not have adequate bone structure might be limited in having the procedure
  • Dental implants are limited in how long they last and will likely need to be replaced at some point in the future

Risks of Dental Implants

Some of the risks involved with dental implants include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Breaking or chipping of the implant
  • Bone loss around the implant
  • Implant failure

 Dental Implants Provide Patient Satisfaction

Tooth loss is one of the most common oral health problems suffered by patients. For a long time, the only solutions to this problem were fixed bridges and removable dentures. Dental implants allow the teeth to be replaced with something that looks, feels and functions like natural teeth. They also have a high success rate and overall patient satisfaction. Patients interested in learning more about dental implants should schedule a consultation appointment with a board-certified dentist who performs dental implants on a regular basis.


Written by Cosmetic Town Editorial Team - MA

Based on an exclusive interview with Robin Rutherford, DDS in Odessa, TX