A dental implant, sometimes referred to as an abutment tooth, can provide a permanent tooth replacement. This dental fixture is made up of several parts that allow it to function like a normal tooth. Learn more about how dental implants work and how you can properly clean and care for them for a lasting smile.
Popularity of Dental Implants
According to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry (AAID), 3 million people in the United States currently have dental implants, and that number is growing by 500,000 each year. Most people do not plan on needing implants, but teeth can be lost for many reasons, such as injury, decay or infection. A dental implant is the most natural way to replace a tooth, as it is directly placed into the surrounding bone and becomes a permanent part of the mouth's structure.
Parts of a Dental Implant
A dental implant consists of three basic components, as the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons explains. The first part is the titanium post, which is placed into the jawbone to act as the root of the artificial tooth. The second component is a special connector, known as an abutment, that serves as a bridge between the post and the crown. The last portion is the crown, which attaches to the abutment and very closely resembles a natural tooth.
After inserting the implant post, a dental professional will usually place a healing abutment — also called a healing cap. As the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) explains, this healing abutment provides the foundation for your replacement tooth and protects the area during the healing process, which may take several weeks. The final abutment, which is part of your permanent implant, will replace the healing cap once the bone has bonded completely to the titanium post and the gums have fully healed.
A case report in the Journal of Oral Implantology notes that conventional healing caps come in several standard lengths, but they may not always be suitable for every patient. Another option is to use a custom abutment that is specifically designed for a particular patient's anatomy and implant site needs. Speak to your dentist about what your implant procedure will entail and what abutments they plan to use.
How to Care for an Implant Tooth
Dental implants that are properly cared for can potentially last for decades, according to the AAID. Caring for implants does not have to be complicated and is actually very similar to caring for your natural teeth.
Caring for an implant includes visiting a dental professional on a regular basis. They will take X-rays to check the bone level surrounding the implant, and they will also check the gum tissue near the implant to make sure the area is healthy and free of inflammation. If plaque and bacteria are present around the implant, the AAP warns that it can lead to an inflammatory condition called peri-implantitis. If it isn't caught early, this can result in bone loss around the titanium post.
Your dentist will advise you on how to take care of your implant at home. The best toothbrushing method for an implant includes using a soft-bristled brush and paying close attention to the gumline. You'll want to brush along the gum margin and sweep the toothbrush toward the biting surface of the tooth. A review in the Journal of Clinical Medicine notes that floss remnants may trigger peri-implantitis, so use traditional floss with caution and make sure it is removed from the dental implant area. Using interdental brushes to remove plaque from the area between the abutment tooth and the surrounding natural teeth may be a better option for some patients.
The long-term success of your abutment tooth is completely up to you. Work together with your dental professional to ensure your implant tooth and entire mouth stay clean and healthy.