Single-tooth dental implants can be a great solution for people missing one or more teeth — helping to improve chewing, talking and, of course, smiling! If you think you might need an implant, you'll want to know what to expect along the way.
When are single-tooth implants used?
Dental implants can be used to replace a missing tooth permanently. First, your dentist will surgically place the implant in your jawbone. Once it fuses to the bone, the implant serves as the new "root." A crown, also called a cap, is attached to the implant to replace the missing tooth.
To be a candidate for a dental implant, the bone in your jaw has to be strong enough to support the implant, and the surrounding tissue and nearby teeth have to be in good health. If there is not enough bone to hold it, additional bone can be added through bone grafting.
It's important for the dentist to perform a thorough medical history and exam. There are some medical problems that would eliminate a candidate for dental implants, such as diabetes, liver disease or a severe bleeding disorder.
How do single-tooth implants work?
A single-tooth dental implant consists of several parts:
The implant — Made of titanium, shaped like a screw or post, placed into the jawbone.
The abutment — Made of titanium, gold or porcelain, attached to the implant. This part connects the implant to the crown.
The crown — Usually made of porcelain fused to metal (PFM), all metal or all porcelain. Your crown will be made to match your other teeth and will be attached to the abutment.
What is the process like?
The entire process of getting single-tooth implant can take months, but the end result is worth it! If your dentist determines that your jawbone isn't sturdy enough for the implant, the first step will be bone grafting. Grafting involves taking bone from another source (or using synthetic material) and adding it to your jaw to make it stronger. In this scenario, your jaw will need 4-12 months to heal before getting the implant.
Getting a dental implant requires oral surgery, generally using local anesthesia. Your oral surgeon will cut into your gum to expose the bone. Holes are drilled into the bone where the metal implant will be placed.
After this procedure, you'll still have a gap where your tooth is missing. Your dentist might be able to fit a partial, temporary denture, if needed. A dental implant will fuse to the bone in 3-6 months, as reported by the European Federation of Periodontology.
Placing the abutment
Once the implant has properly fused with the bone, your dentist may want to place a healing cap. This helps the gum tissue heal correctly, usually taking around 2 weeks. After this, the cap is removed and the abutment is screwed onto the implant. You'll get a temporary crown while the gums finish healing around the abutment.
Getting a crown
Your dentist will make a final impression to create your crown, which will either be cemented or screwed to the abutment to permanently secure it in place. You can treat this new "tooth" like any other in your mouth, with regular brushing and flossing to keep the gums healthy.
According to the Academy of Periodontology, every single-tooth implant is different. Some of these steps may be combined or omitted, depending on the situation.
There is the possibility of an implant failing for a variety of reasons — if an infection develops, which is rare, or if the bite (the way the teeth come together) has not been properly adjusted. In addition, clenching or grinding teeth can put a lot of pressure on the implant. This may cause bone loss and cause the implant to break or fail.
When implants are used to replace lower teeth, there is the risk that a nerve in the jawbone could be injured, causing numbness or tingling. It can be temporary, until the nerve heals, or it can be permanent. However, x-rays and CT scans help your dentist see where the nerve is located and minimize the possibility of injury. There is also the risk of sinus problems if a dental implant placed in the upper jaw protrudes into one of your sinus cavities. However, these risks are uncommon.
Implants may not be the easiest, but they take time in order to be healthy and secure at every step of the process. Once you have your new implant and crown, make sure to take care of it — and every other part of your mouth, too!